Effects of foreclosure not just financial

By Jacqueline Dautel | gargoyle@flagler.edu

I thought it was grand. I was 19 with the house all to myself for weeks at a time. We had a loaded liquor cabinet, which didn’t stay loaded for long, a pool and spacious patio well suited for “small get-togethers” with my friends.

You would think I was a pretty lucky teenager. Most kids my age would have loved to have their parents’ home all to themselves. But what may have looked like freedom at first glance was just a byproduct of a rather large trap my father and I found ourselves struggling desperately to escape from.

My father, who had been a Realtor all my life, left Gainesville to work a manual labor marina job in South Florida. Our mounting financial troubles had finally forced him to trade in his regular suit and tie for work pants and steel-toe boots. He worked in the blazing, southern sun for almost 12 hours a day. His job was to move rocks. It was a big adjustment from driving prospective home owners around town chatting about square footage and marble counter tops.

But this job guaranteed a paycheck where selling houses only guaranteed uncertainty and stress when the bills showed up in the mail box.

We hear numbers all the time. We’re barked at by our television sets the percentages of unemployment rates and the number of mortgages entering foreclosure. And they’re always rising — never improving.  Even if you live under a rock and have not been informed by the morning, afternoon or evening news, chances are there are a number of people close to you who are experiencing various forms of financial hardship. More than 2.8 million homes in the U.S. received a foreclosure notice in 2009. That’s about 1 in every 45 properties and a 120 percent increase since 2007.

Since we’re all aware of the cause of the problem by now, it’s time to start observing more of the effects. Our wallets aren’t the only things shrinking. Our sanity is diminishing as well.

So many Americans identify themselves by what they do. These days, if you subscribe to the “American Dream” you most likely define yourself by your career and a great deal of your self-worth is strongly tied to the dollar amount of your bank account.

My father and I lived quite comfortably for years. Life felt easy the day I inhaled the fresh, new-car smell of the brand new Mustang my dad bought just because he felt like it. Life felt simple when we could end a work week by visiting blue skies and open water at our river house and going out on our boat.

But when all of these luxuries were taken away, the work weeks got longer and the pressure my father felt intensified. Eventually, working the real estate market was futile. My dad no longer woke up and put on a suit for work. The floor fell out from under us and we lost our home. What happens to people who have been working all their lives when they no longer need to get up and put on their uniforms?

Depression depends on a number of factors. A person’s genetic predisposition, abuse, conflict, or various pills and substances in our over-medicated world all weigh in when it comes to an individual’s probability of becoming depressed. But the instance of losing one’s home can cause more than enough stress to change a trying time into an all-out battle with a complex disease.

Studies are now showing that people who have been laid off or have had their home enter foreclosure are experiencing symptoms of depression as the result of their situation. My father was not an exception to these findings and that is why I believe them to be true. Struggling homeowners involved in the studies are reporting feelings of hopelessness, worthlessness, fatigue, trouble sleeping and lack of focus.

The combination of these symptoms and my father’s history with alcohol caused a hurtful, year-long rift in our family. He neglected milestones in his daughters’ lives that he used to live for. I applied and was accepted to college without him knowing and he missed my sister’s graduation from University of Florida before he essentially cut himself off from the world.

In the year that my father dealt with his depression, I would find him sitting in the same spot from day to day. I remember his eyes were foggy and tired, but he was unable to rest. He would mumble that he had failed and did not know what to do. It was an alarming situation, but I know it could have been a lot worse. In my case, he never ended his life — even though he clearly felt like it was over. Others are not as lucky.

Recent studies show that suicide rates have increased since the crisis began. All you have to do is Google the words “suicide foreclosure” and you will find articles upon articles about people who have been driven to the end of their rope by banks and loan collectors. In Central Florida in 2008, 567 people killed themselves. According to state and county death records, that’s a 13 percent leap from the previous year.

For some of us, these statistics don’t come as a surprise upon hearing them. There was a time last year when my father attended three funerals in a row of fellow Realtors in my hometown who had committed suicide. Many of his friends were also struggling to stay afloat in the rising waters of economic despair. Men that I had only known as being happily married with kids in high school were being faced with divorce filings from their wives who were trying to get away with all the money that was left of their now broken home.

Financially and psychologically, we’re being run into the ground. Relationships with our families are being destroyed by the stress we are weighed down by. We’re trying to adjust to empty wallets in our pockets, but we end up carrying tension in our backs and in our shoulders. The ways of coping are often self-destructive and even violent toward our mental well-being. Our nation’s economy has driven us to the most modern stage of Capitalist Darwinism, weeding out the people who can’t pay.

The truth is, if you can’t afford to keep a home, chances are you can’t afford to keep your wits.

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