University of Maryland School of Medicine researchers find mortgage default associated with substantially increased risk of depression

Baltimore, MD – Oct. 20, 2011. Researchers warn of a looming health crisis in the wake of rising mortgage delinquencies and home foreclosures. The study, released today in the American Journal of Public Health, is the first long-term survey of the impact the current housing crisis is having on older Americans.  The study focused on adults over 50 and found high rates of depression among those behind in their mortgage payments and a higher likelihood of making unhealthy financial tradeoffs regarding food and needed prescription medications.

“More than a quarter of people in mortgage default or foreclosure are over 50,” says the study’s principal investigator, Dawn E. Alley, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and public health at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “For an older person with chronic conditions like diabetes or hypertension, the types of health problems we saw are short term consequences of falling behind on a mortgage that could have long-run implications for that person’s health.”

The study was prompted in part by the rapid rise in foreclosure rates that began in 2007 following a dramatic increase in subprime lending. By 2009, 2.21 percent of all homes in the United States, a total of more than 2.8 million properties, were in some stage of foreclosure.  Previous research had shown that home ownership is associated with better health while financial strain is associated with worse health and higher death rates.

“This study has pinpointed an issue that until now has been somewhat under the radar, but which threatens to become a major public health crisis if not addressed,” says E. Albert Reece, M.D., Ph.D., M.B.A., vice president for medical affairs at the University of Maryland and dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Through research such as this, faculty epidemiologists and public health specialists provide valuable information and perspectives that are useful for government and private policy makers as they work to meet the health and economic needs of Americans.”

The researchers examined data from the Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative panel study of Americans older than age 50. In 2008, 2,474 participants were asked if they had fallen more than two months behind on mortgage payments since 2006.  The survey included questions designed to measure psychological impairment, general health status and access to important health-relevant resources.  In predicting these health outcomes, researchers controlled for demographic factors, health behaviors, chronic diseases, sources of debt and annual household income.

Among participants who were mortgage delinquent, 22 percent developed elevated depressive symptoms over the two-year period compared to only three percent of non-delinquent respondents.  Twenty-eight percent of mortgage-delinquent participants reported food insecurity compared to four percent in the non-delinquent group. In addition, the delinquent group reported much higher levels of cost-related medication non-adherence (32 percent compared to five percent).

The study also found that lower-income and minority homeowners were at higher risk for mortgage default. “Our results suggest that the housing crisis may be making health disparities worse,” says Dr. Alley, “because these groups had poorer health, lower incomes and higher levels of debt even before the current mortgage crisis.”  The researchers note that it will likely take decades for African American and Hispanic communities to recover the wealth lost during the housing crisis and that minority communities are disproportionately affected by declining home values and lost tax revenue.

The study began just as mortgage delinquencies and subsequent home foreclosures began to rise in the United States, driven mainly by increases in mortgage payments related to adjustable rate loans. Dr. Alley says the health picture is much worse today because rising mortgage defaults are compounded by unemployment. “Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the number of Americans with depression has been increasing along with rising unemployment.”

Dr. Alley adds that mortgage counselors are seeing a rising tide of health issues. “We did a separate nationwide survey of mortgage counselors and found that almost 70 percent of them said many of the clients they worked with were depressed or hopeless. About a third of them said they had worked with someone in the last month who expressed intent for self harm or suicide. These are very serious and clearly ongoing issues.”

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health. It was conducted with support, resources and use of facilities from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center in conjunction with the Organized Research Center on Aging at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


Alley DE, Lloyd J, Pagan JA, Pollack CE, Shardell M, Cannuscio C. “Mortgage delinquency and changes in access to health resources and depressive symptoms in a nationally representative cohort of Americans older than 50 years.” American Journal of Public Health. Published online October 20, 2011. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2011. 300245

Video Package section

Video Package

Story features Dr. Dawn Alley discussing the findings of the research on the link between mortgage delinquency and health issues. Video includes photographs from Philadelphia illustrative of the effects of the housing crisis in the United States as captured by the Health of Philadelphia Photo-documentation Project. NOTE: All photos must carry this credit line: Photos by Hannah Fruchtman Johnston for the Health of Phila. Photo-documentation Project

Additional soundbites:

Dawn Alley, PhD
University of Maryland School of Medicine

What we found is that people who fell 2 or more months behind in their mortgage payment had a much greater likelihood of developing depressive symptoms, food insecurity or reporting there had been a time when they hadn’t enough to eat in the last two years, an prescription drug non-adherance, due to costs, meaning they hadn’t filled prescriptions for medicine that they needed because they said they didn’t have the money (:

We know these problems are continuing, we have recent data released by the CDC that shows that the number of Americans with depression has been increasing along with rising unemployment and, here, as we saw, rising mortgage default levels.


  1. lvent says:

    This is what they want debt, destruction and death…reject them and all of their evil plans!! Nationwide mortgage revolt…stop paying the tyranny who wants to destroy our National Sovereignty…!Nationwide property tax revolt until they stop robbing all of us!!! ABOLISH THE FED/WORLD BANK TYRANNY….!

  2. Mario Kenny says:

    Hello, am I sick in my mind then? for sure I am.

  3. Javagold says:

    when people have nothing left to lose, the tables can turn very quickly……we may be getting near that time

  4. Stanley Krepplin says:

    Well said John, apathy, sadness, depression – you’ve got to fight the Bastards who are causing all of it. Nothing uplifts spirits more than not giving up.

  5. John says:

    They would be better off to get pissed off and fight back rather than sick and go to bed or get medicated.

    One can bring about right and justice, the other only brings about defeat!.

    • Malco says:

      Stanley , I got a tattoo a few weeks ago , “ilegitimi-non-carborundum” it is latin for dont let the bastards wear you down ,an old WWII saying , been there done that w/ depression crap and med’s . F that I am ready to fight and if I have to I will bring the fight right to the CEO’s house , put a man in a corner and he will cower or fight – I am Irish , we love a good fight , I grew up bar fighting so bring it or I will bring to you , B of A monitors this post so you little bastards , are you ready ????? Yeh I that M’Fer who you do not want to assign your specialists to , because I shred them , just as I will in court or at your coffee shop , yeh , what does it feel like to be scared , bitches . I got all of your info and you do NOT want me dogging your trail . Javagold , they turned the tables , every action creates a re-action – they brought this on themselves .

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