Foreclosure-Related Suicide: Sign of the Times?

A Massachusetts woman committed suicide hours before her house went to auction.

ByABC News
July 24, 2008, 5:16 PM

July 25, 2008— -- "By the time you foreclose on my house, I'll be dead."

So read the note that 53-year-old Carlene Balderrama of Taunton, Mass., faxed to her mortgage company, according to Taunton Police Chief Raymond O'Berg.

The message turned out to be tragically prophetic. According to local reports, PHH Mortgage Corp. -- the company foreclosing on Balderrama's home -- notified police of the message less than an hour and a half before the home was to go on the auction block. By the time officers arrived at Balderrama's house, they found she had fatally shot herself with her husband's rifle.

O'Berg said Balderrama's death has been officially ruled a suicide. But though the case is closed, he notes that the tragedy underscores a problem that is affecting many in the community of about 60,000, which lies roughly 40 miles south of Boston.

"It has a lot of people talking, because there are a lot of homes in foreclosure here," O'Berg told "It's just a tragedy. Then again, someone told me that these financial stresses are tough."

And with no end in sight to the country's economic downturn, some psychological experts say that cases like these may become more common.

"Stress is a huge factor in suicide, and looming very large is stress related to the economy," said Dr. Charles Nemeroff, chairman of psychiatry at Emory University in Atlanta, Ga., and president of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"Suicide is certainly a response to hard economic times," noted Dr. Harold Koenig, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C. "Consider what happened when the stock market fell in 1929. There was a rash of suicides."

According to the RealtyTrac Monthly U.S. Foreclosure Market Report released Friday morning, the number of U.S. homes receiving a foreclosure notice between April and June of this year shot up 121 percent compared with the same period last year. That means that 739,000 households received a foreclosure notice during this three-month period -- which translates into one out of every 171 households in the country.