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Sick over housing: Study links foreclosures, health issues

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Sick over housing: Study links foreclosures, health issues

Foreclosures could be taking a toll on the physical and mental health of Arizonans, according to a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The five-year study of four states with high foreclosure rates, including Arizona, found a corresponding rise in emergency room visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, diabetes and physical “malaise.”

“It surprised me how large and widespread the effects were that we found,” said study co-author Janet Currie. “There really is a relationship between these stressful events and their impact on their health.”

The report broke down foreclosures by ZIP code in Arizona, California, Florida and New Jersey from 2005 to 2009. It found that foreclosures increased by about 100 per quarter per ZIP code.

For every 100 new foreclosures, the report said there was a 12 percent increase in anxiety-related ER visits or hospitalizations for people ages 20 to 49, and an 18.8 percent increase for 50- to 64-year-olds. The report also noted an increase in reported suicide attempts, but said the sample was too small to draw a firm conclusion on a link there.

Todd Francis, who works with a foreclosure-counseling service in Phoenix, said he did not need the study to know that people going through foreclosures are hurting. He compared impact of a foreclosure to the process of grieving the loss of a loved one.

“In 2008, people were in denial that they were going to lose their home, they didn’t realize they had a home they actually couldn’t afford,” said Francis, whose Neighborhood Housing Services of Phoenix began foreclosure counseling that year. “The next stage came in 2009, when they moved from denial to anger.”

He said that by 2010, his agency’s busiest year for counseling, clients had moved to the final stage of the grieving process.

“Now we’re at a point where people have accepted the situation,” said Francis, chief operating officer of the nonprofit agency.

Currently, more than 73,000 homes in Arizona are in foreclosure, the equivalent of one home in 37, according to More than 10,000 homes were added in July alone, the service said.

Pilar Vargas can’t say the increase in foreclosures and financial hardship is directly related to the increase in demand at Empact-Suicide Prevention Center in Phoenix. But she does believe they are playing a significant role.

“We have seen an increase of clients calling us and feeling suicidal, feeling stressed or depressed,” said Vargas, director of suicide prevention and trauma services at the Valley center.

Francis believes that the initial years of the foreclosure crisis brought shame to families going through the process, creating additional stress. But now that foreclosures are more common, it’s not as taboo: Solutions may be discussed in social settings, he said.

But Currie warned that it may be a while before Arizonans start to see any relief.

“The way that the economy is going, it doesn’t look like it is going to turn around soon,” she said.

“I imagine that a lot of the (health) effect is cumulative, so if you have a lot of bad things happen to you, you are more likely to suffer some negative impact on your mental health,” Currie said.

The study is part of a broader look at the financial burden on Americans from the recession, which includes the loss of health care and additional costs from stress-induced illness.

Currie said the difference between Arizona and the other states she studied is most notable in the length of time that each state has suffered.

“It started earlier in Arizona than in a lot of places, so Arizonans have been suffering from this longer,” said Currie.a

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