Foreclosures are still on the rise, and they're taking a toll on the American psyche.

Lee Iacocca once said, "In times of great stress or adversity, it's always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and your energy into something positive." This simple, down-to-earth advice may be the new golden rule for homeowners facing foreclosure.

The strain of foreclosure has become a real problem in this country, as evidenced by the story of Carlene Balderrama. The tortured woman took her own life with a rifle blast, shortly after faxing a suicide threat to her mortgage company. Her husband and son, who both lived with her in the home, had no idea of her intentions.

Desperate foreclosure victims

As foreclosures continue to increase, more and more U.S. homeowners are experiencing the same feelings that drove Mrs. Balderrama to a violent, self-inflicted death. These foreclosure victims are grappling with rage, hopelessness, and despair as they realize that there's nothing they can do to keep from losing their homes. The pain is particularly sharp for first-time homeowners, who believed that their home purchase was a step towards financial prosperity. Now, they're facing financial ruin and wondering where it all went wrong.

Given recent increases in the number of foreclosures in the U.S., foreclosure stress may soon be an official condition. An entry in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders might list these symptoms:

  • Crying spells
  • Low self-esteem
  • Increased drinking, smoking, or drug usage
  • Poor concentration
  • Mention of suicide

Keeping perspective

The symptoms of foreclosure stress don't just indicate sadness; they could mean that you're heading for a crisis. If you're behind in your mortgage payments, remember that losing a home is nothing more than losing a piece of property.  Focus on the fact that you still have your family, friends, and health. You enjoyed life before you owned the home, and you can enjoy it after. If despair starts to creep in, tell someone. Talk to friends, use your employer assistance benefits, call a suicide hotline. You don't have to get through it on your own.

You can combat the feelings of helplessness by taking control of the situation. Ask your lender if you have any workout options. See a credit counselor and develop a monthly cash flow budget. Consider getting a second job, selling the home, taking an advance from your employer, or obtaining government assistance. Then, think about where you can live if you decide to let the foreclosure run its course. Are there affordable rental properties in your area? Can you move in with a relative temporarily? Keep an open mind as you flesh out the options; you may decide, for example, that getting a second job to stave off foreclosure will cause more problems than it solves.

Most importantly, in the spirit of Iacocca's advice, don't dwell on the loss of your home-focus your thinking on rebuilding your future.

    Published on September 8, 2008