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Op/Ed

Foreclosures linked to spike in suicides: how Realtors can intervene

Researchers say they’ve discovered a link between foreclosures and suicides in America, and Realtors can take some simple steps to intervene before it’s too late for some people.

suicide rates

According to a study that will be featured in next month’s issue of American Journal of Public Health, there is a link between the foreclosure crisis and the increasing number of suicides in America. Researchers from Dartmouth College discovered the link, noting that foreclosures “contributed significantly” to the increase, independent of other economic factors associated with the economic collapse.

Most alarming is that the study found that middle-aged people (aged 46 to 64 years old) faced with foreclosure were the most vulnerable.

“It seems that foreclosures affect suicide rates in two ways,” Jason Houle, co-author of the study and an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, said in a statement. “The loss of a home clearly impacts individuals and families, and can arouse feelings of loss, shame, or regret. At the same time, rising foreclosure rates affect entire communities because they’re associated with a number of community level resources and stresses, including an increase in crime, abandoned homes, and a sense of insecurity.”

How they discovered this unique risk

Studying suicide rates between 2005 and 2010, the researchers found that the suicide rate increased nearly 13 percent at the same time as foreclosures skyrocketed. The findings note that middle aged Americans were most strongly impacted by foreclosures, and also experienced the highest increase in suicide rates during the recession.

“Foreclosures are a unique suicide risk among the middle-aged,” Houle said. “Middle-aged adults are more likely to own homes and have a higher risk of home foreclosure. They’re also nearing retirement age, so losing assets at that stage in life is likely to have a profound effect on mental health and well-being.”

Houle and co-author Michael Light, an assistant professor of sociology at Purdue University, note this is one of the first studies to show a correlation between foreclosure rates and suicide rates.

Taking this seriously; what you can do

Although we take the study with a grain of salt because it is extremely common to confuse correlation and causation, it is safer to proceed with caution. Foreclosures are not a thing of the past, despite the red alarm bells are no longer ringing and rates are very, very slowly returning to normal.

But if foreclosures put people at risk of suicide, what is to be done as a society? Should there be bailouts. No, that hasn’t worked. Should mental health experts be paired with homeowners being served foreclosure notices? That’s unrealistic as well. Perhaps practitioners can play more of a role.

Perhaps real estate professionals selling a home can include information in their move-in packets about avoiding foreclosures, outlining some of the resources available, and encouraging the homeowner to contact them when experiencing trouble. Many agents already do an amazing job of fielding their past clients and matching troubled clients with lending help or reconfiguration, or helping them connect with the proper resources, and often end up earning a listing out of the deal because they were part of the process before any foreclosure process ever took place.

Realtors, you can play a part in helping save lives. It sounds corny, but it’s true – make clear at the onset that you’re available long after any transaction, and that homeowners aren’t alone. You helped get them into that home, you can (in many cases) help them to get out, too.

Lani is the COO and News Director at The American Genius, has co-authored a book, co-founded BASHH, Austin Digital Jobs, Remote Digital Jobs, and is a seasoned business writer and editorialist with a penchant for the irreverent.

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