WEDNESDAY, Aug. 19 (HealthDay News) -- The epidemic of home foreclosures is having a serious impact on Americans' health, suggests a study that looked at 250 Philadelphia homeowners facing foreclosure.
More than half of them reported being depressed, and 37 percent of them had major depression. In addition, almost 60 percent reported skipping meals because they couldn't afford food and 48 percent said they couldn't afford prescription drugs.
The study also found that for 9 percent of participants, a medical condition in their family was the primary reason for the home foreclosure, and more than 25 percent said they had significant unpaid medical bills.
"The foreclosure crisis is also a health crisis. We need to do more to ensure that if people lose their homes, they don't also lose their health," the study's lead author, Dr. Craig E. Pollack, who conducted the research while at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, said in a news release.
The financial strain of foreclosure may cause people to reduce what they consider discretionary health care spending, for such things as preventive care visits, healthy foods and drugs for chronic conditions. This can have a serious effect on long-term health, Pollack said.
He and his colleagues also found that the stress of foreclosure may lead to an increase in unhealthy behaviors. For example, 65 percent of smokers in the study said they smoked more since receiving notice of foreclosure.
The findings from Philadelphia may represent only the tip of the iceberg when compared to some other cities, Pollack said. While foreclosure filings in Philadelphia almost doubled between 2007 and 2008, other large cities have higher unemployment and foreclosure rates.
In order to reduce foreclosure-related health effects, mortgage counseling agencies and health care workers need to coordinate their efforts to help people at risk of foreclosure access both housing and medical help, the researchers said.
The study appears online this week in the American Journal of Public Health.
The American Psychiatric Association has more about mental health and the economy.
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