Impact of "Houses of Blues"

“Houses of Blues,” a two-part series running in the Merced Sun-Star Jan. 28 and 30, 2010, provided one of the first in-depth portrayals of the mental health effects of the California foreclosure crisis. The 12-story project delved into how homeowners fearful of losing their homes were suffering depression, anxiety and sleeplessness in a county ranked first in foreclosures in California and sixth nationwide. Few people sought professional help, and the series chronicled how the county’s mental health safety net had been crippled by state funding cuts. The project provided a Q&A and an on-line chat with a respected Merced therapist to demystify depression and help troubled residents find care.

The Sun-Star organized a March 7 community forum, following up on a suggestion from the Center. An estimated 60 residents attended, many talking openly about psychological trauma, and received advice from a panel that included a behavioral health expert and a financial specialist. 

The series was praised by local leaders, including Manuel Jimenez, director of the Merced County Department of Mental Health, which experienced a surge in inquiries and referrals after publication. So did the local community clinic. “It helped educate people in the county on the resources available to them,” Jimenez said.

Following the series, Merced U.S. Congressman Dennis Cardoza introduced an amendment to the proposed Federal Housing Authority Reform Act of 2010, requiring that financial counseling about financial options be provided to homeowners in regions hardest hit by the crisis. “Navigating these options is often difficult, stressful and confusing,” Cardoza said in a June 10 media statement. The bill passed the House and awaited action in the Senate.

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Clinging to hope and home

Elected and appointed officials said the psychological trauma spawned by home foreclosures in Merced County poses a serious challenge, but that recent cuts to state mental health funding makes treatment hard to get.

Foreclosures by the numbers

Barely a block in Merced is without a For Sale or For Rent sign, or an empty home or two with the tell-tale signs of foreclosure. The visual cues reflect a tsunami of statistics that show a county where many homeowners are suffering:

Know the signs

Someone who is depressed has feelings of sadness or anxiety that last for weeks at a time, according to the Centers for Disease Control. He or she may also experience: - Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
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