People who have been evicted from their home are four times more likely than average to commit suicide, according to a large Swedish study.
Since many suicides happen when eviction has been ordered but not yet carried out, the authors defined "eviction" as loss of the right to possess one's dwelling, rather than actually leaving it.
"The eviction problem in Sweden has historically been explained as an unintended consequence of the provision of homes to poor households and families with social problems, that is, to individuals who have a high eviction risk in the first place, thus viewing home evictions as having a subsidiary role in an ongoing process of social marginalization rather than ascribing them the key independent role that our study seems to be suggesting, at least when it comes to suicide," said lead author Yerko Rojas of the Swedish Institute for Social Research (SOFI) at Stockholm University.
Evictions in Sweden peaked in 1994 and were historically low in 2014. They spiked in some Mediterranean countries, like Spain, during the recent Euro crisis, coauthor Sten-Ake Stenberg added.
The rate and speed of evictions varies by country and over time, Stenberg said.
The researchers identified all cases in which a landlord, usually, had applied between 2009 and 2012 for an eviction order to be executed by the Swedish Enforcement Authority.
They compared to the roughly 23,000 individuals affected by the evictions to a random sample of more than 770,000 Swedes age 16 and over in the general population.
Data on cause of death was only available for 2013. There were 195 suicides that year, including 41 in the eviction group and 154 in the comparison group.
Those who had lost their legal right to the dwelling, and where the landlord had applied for the eviction to be executed, were approximately nine times more likely to commit suicide than others.
When accounting for other factors like unemployment, substance abuse, mood disorders, education and schizophrenia, suicide was still four times more likely in the eviction group, the researchers reported in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
It is important to be cautious about drawing wide-ranging conclusions on the basis of the size of this effect, or on the basis of any other aspect of the study, Rojas said.
"Having said that, I believe it is very concerning that the suicidogenic effect that seems to be related to the eviction process, according to our study, has hitherto tended to be neglected," he said.
"We believe that an eviction can be understood as a very traumatic rejection, that is, as an exquisitely shameful experience in which one's most basic human needs are denied," Rojas told Reuters Health by email. "Merely the strain that comes with a threat of an eviction has been suggested to be sufficiently powerful for the individual to feel that it is unbearable, hence, the suicidal act."
This is still speculation, though, he added.
"We need to focus both on trying to prevent people from losing their homes and on helping those who have already lost them if one wants take our results seriously," he said.
Professionals and others who interact with individuals who are in the process of losing their homes may have an important role to play, he said.