Home for Christmas: Suicide, Depression and the Holidays
The holidays can be very trying times for people who are facing foreclosure or are in litigation. Many of us fighting foreclosure have been victimized by a corrupt judicial system that refuses to comply with the law, and predatory attorneys who fail to uphold their promises; while taking every last cent we have. There is often no recourse with the courts and filing malpractice is often not financially feasible. Banks rely on their ability to influence the judiciary and evade discovery requests while outspending and exhausting the consumer. If the laws were followed, these cases would be honorably settled, people would heal, and everyone would go forward with their lives-but this isn’t how the banks and courts work. The feeling of powerlessness, hopelessness and futility often contribute to major depression and too often result in suicide when people recognize that everything they had once assumed about justice, is wrong.
To most families, the holidays are a time of family and reflection. To those fighting foreclosure, the holidays can be a time of fear, uncertainty and shame. Foreclosure often causes a family not only to fear losing their home, but to forego gifts and celebrations in the face of prolonged and expensive litigation. People may isolate themselves from loved ones and friends, and even if they don’t- there is a foreclosure stigma that causes people to distance themselves from others.
At this time of year it is important that we put the issue of foreclosure in context. Most people who have been in foreclosure aren’t bad or flawed people. The majority are people who may have lost their jobs during the recession, been given a predatory loan, qualified for more house than they could afford, or found the value of their home decreasing. The holidays can compound the stress and trauma associated with foreclosure. Sareen Wang conducted a study on suicide and found that financial stressors had the largest impact on attempted suicides, followed closely by violent assault. Specifically, financial problems led to more suicide attempts than nearly all of the psychological conditions, except depression.
Home ownership corresponds to safety and security. When a home is lost- family members may feel they have lost their foundation and sense of place in the world. Next, home foreclosure is typically not a private affair and there is often no timeline until conclusion. People are often humiliated publicly and have no idea how many months or years the foreclosure or corresponding lawsuit may take to settle. Each protracted negotiation results in a new episode of trauma. Lastly, foreclosure often requires relocation resulting in disrupted social networks, new schools, and destabilized neighborhoods. All of these issues compound and place a person at increased risk of suicide.
Researchers have composed studies of state-level data on the association between rates of foreclosure and rates of suicide and confirmed that foreclosure adversely affects both health and mental health. They have also discovered that foreclosure is associated with worsening outcomes including depression, anxiety, increased alcohol and drug use, psychological distress and increased suicide risk. People in financial distress often engage in financial tradeoffs resulting in delayed or unmet medical needs due to the expense of litigation or trying to save their home. The stress of foreclosure is life-altering, but so is the experience of litigation. Compounding the issue are cases when the courts blatantly ignore the law, when banks break into homes, or in cases where the attorney fails to properly defend the case leaving the homeowner with no recourse.
The Obama administration has justified foreclosure prevention programs in terms of the economic benefits (stable neighborhoods, reduced crime) but has not addressed the health and mental benefits of providing legitimate alternatives to foreclosure. At least 5 percent of all residential homes in the United States are in the process of foreclosure and the foreclosure crisis is not close to being resolved. Earlier interventions to assist people when they lose their jobs or in cases of severe illness may prevent future chronic stress disorders that occur from prolonged and complicated foreclosure matters.
At this time of year, please support those in foreclosure or facing financially difficult times. Be particularly sensitive to people who are threatening suicide or displaying common features of suicidal ideation:
Suicide Warning Signs:
Appearing depressed or sad most of the time.
(Untreated depression is the number one cause for suicide.)
Talking or writing about death or suicide.
Withdrawing from family and friends.
Feeling strong anger or rage.
Feeling trapped — like there is no way out of a situation.
Experiencing dramatic mood changes.
Abusing drugs or alcohol.
Exhibiting a change in personality.
Losing interest in most activities.
Experiencing a change in sleeping habits.
Experiencing a change in eating habits.
Losing interest in most activities.
Performing poorly at work or in school.
Giving away prized possessions.
Writing a will.
Feeling excessive guilt or shame.
Assistance is available at:
Live Chat at: https://www.imalive.org/
Suicide Hotlines: Didi Hirsch Suicide Prevention Crisis Line- 877-727-4747
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Wang, Y., Sareen, J., Afifi, T. O., Bolton, S. L., Johnson., E. A. (2012). Recent stressful life events and suicide attempt. Psychiatric Annals, 42.3, 101-108.
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