Foreclosures Are Bad for Your Health

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Losing your home is a nightmare—enough to make you sick to your stomach, and then some. Just how stressful is it to go through a foreclosure? A new study indicates that a rise in foreclosures correlates to an increase in serious hypertension problems, ER visits, and suicide attempts.

The study, titled “Is the Foreclosure Crisis Making Us Sick?” and written by a pair of economists for the National Bureau of Economic Research, shows that for every increase of 100 foreclosures in a zip code, there’s a corresponding rise in health issues for people in the normally healthy age group of 20 to 49: an 8.1% increase in diabetes, 7.2% more ER visits and hospitalizations for hypertension, and 12% more visits to doctors related to anxiety. A rise in foreclosures was also associated with a 39% increase in trips to the hospital related to suicide attempts.

Precise cause and effect is always hard to nail down, notes a Wall Street Journal story about the newly published research paper. The health problems may be caused by all sorts of financial and personal issues—credit card debt, unemployment, marital and familial distress related to all of the above—rather than foreclosures specifically. Areas where foreclosure rates have spiked are also likely to have residents who don’t have jobs or health insurance.

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Interestingly enough, the people getting sick in these areas may not even be the ones losing their homes:

It may not just be foreclosure victims arriving at hospitals—but neighbors also grappling with depleting equity in their biggest investment.

“You see foreclosures having a general effect on the neighborhood,” [one of the study’s authors, Princeton University’s Janet] Currie says. “Everybody’s stressed out. There is a connection between people’s economic well being and their physical well being.”

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If some housing experts have their way, there could be a lot more sick, stressed-out former homeowners out there. The number of foreclosures has plunged so far in 2011, and, as CNN Money reports, some experts are trying to talk the Obama administration to forget about trying to help delinquent borrowers save their homes. Instead, the focus should be pushing through more foreclosures, so that the properties can go on sale and be put back into use—and ideally, the housing market rebounds as a result.

As things stand, proponents of accelerating foreclosures say, the foreclosure process is unnecessarily slow, and the slowdown on foreclosures is also slowing down the housing market’s recovery.

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Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.