Foreclosure-Related Suicide: Sign of the Times?

However, Nemeroff said such behavior may be more common than most would think.

"In many cases, folks have family who would help if they reached out and asked, but they are too embarrassed about it," he said.

Preventing More Tragedies

For most, Nemeroff says, economic woes alone are seldom enough to tip the scales toward suicide. Rather, for some they could be a last straw -- the final huge problem that pushes them over the edge.

Still, there are many for whom the falling economy could conspire with existing psychological problems and stresses. Nemeroff worried that this, combined with the growing problem of suicide in veterans of the war in Iraq, could be enough to create a spike the past few years' relatively stable suicide rates.

In 2005, the most recent year for which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently has suicide statistics, 32,637 Americans took their own lives. In 2004, the number was 32,439, and in 2003 it was 31,484.

But he noted that for those willing to look beyond suicide, there may be another way out of the crisis.

"As long as you have your health, there is always a way out," he said. "Maybe you have to file for bankruptcy, and that happens. Maybe it means that you have to apply for food stamps, or that you have to look among your family for help.

"Once you find out that foreclosure is not a sign of personal failure, that it is not anything that is happening to nobody else ... there's hope."

O'Berg, however, said he feels mortgage lenders also have a part to play.

"The banks got us into this mess," he said. "They should be working with people to help get them out of it."

Associated Press reports contributed to this story.

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