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Default, Foreclosure and the Impact on Physical and Mental Health Function

Posted by Neil Garfield | May 15, 2017

by K.K. MacKinstry/LendingLies Blog

Neuroscientists have concluded that chronic stress and cortisol damage the brain. Although there are no formal studies to date on the health ramifications of default, prolonged litigation, and post-foreclosure trauma, it would be safe to conclude that people who are exposed to chronic stress over an extended period of time are prone to mental issues like anxiety and mood disorders as well as physical illnesses. The most common mental disorders in protracted litigation are post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression that unfortunately result in altered brain structure and chemistry.

The majority of people who sue their servicer will face a hostile judiciary and an intimidating legal system with procedural obstacles at every turn. The homeowner will exist in an unresolved state of existence for years or decades and are thus prone to both mental and physical health consequences.

I have been fighting a servicer for 14 long years. What I have documented with the progression of my lawsuit is a steady decline of my mental functioning, mood, and motivation with an overall deterioration of my physical health. Although some of these changes are attributable to natural aging, I believe the stress and trauma have accelerated my rate of aging in comparison to my peers.

For over a decade, my existence has been like living with a gauntlet swinging overhead- knowing that any day the gauntlet will fall. Every morning I wake up, I wonder if this is going to be the day. Through strategic legal maneuvering I have not yet lost my home. However, if I prevail or if I lose is immaterial at this point- because my mental and physical health have been adversely impacted. I will never be the same person I could have been- had I simply ignored the fraud and walked away.

Most attorneys, judges and juries simply have no concept of what it is like to live in a suspended state of litigation. It is difficult to live when you spend your life anticipating the bank's next move or the way the court will rule (usually in defiance of centuries old law.) Too often, attorneys representing homeowners focus on the economic injuries of their clients without understanding the life-long mental and physical health consequences clients suffer.

In a just world, foreclosure would be handled swiftly and in accordance with law. For example, when a bank forges legal documents- the documents would be considered void and the case settled. Unfortunately, the Rules of Court, Rules of Civil Procedure, and the application of statutory and common law doctrine do not apply to homeowners seeking relief. Feelings of vulnerability, predation and the injustice of the system permanently alter a person's sense of order in the world.

Since the banks are not held to the normal rules and doctrines, there are no longer customary legal protections for the homeowner. What may have once been considered a simple contract issue often becomes a decade long battle where statute of limitations don't matter, res judicata is applied in a prejudicial manner (but only against homeowners,) and findings of fraud are ignored. In what other type of litigation is a criminal matter like breaking and entering reduced to a "civil" matter? It would be absurd if a husband beat his wife during divorce negotiations and law enforcement considered the crime a civil matter. Breaking and entering is burglary and should be prosecuted as such- but law enforcement refuses to prosecute banks that instruct others to break into occupied homes. It is no surprise why those who are subjected to the bank's playbook suffer health consequences.

The consensus among trial judges is that nearly all foreclosures should be allowed to proceed, and that the homeowner should be dispossessed of his homestead or other property, leaving only an action for damages and by the time a homeowner loses his trial and loses his home he likely has nothing left to fight with economically, mentally or physically.

Florida attorney Neil F. Garfield says that, "Foreclosure is the equivalent in civil procedure to the death penalty in criminal procedure." He elaborates that, "There was also a time in which strict adherence to statutes, doctrines and rules was required in order to succeed in the foreclosure of collateral or property. This is congruent with common law and statutory doctrines dating back centuries." Garfield explains that the days of adherence are long over because the judiciary believes it has a responsibility to save the banks while sacrificing the homeowner.

The feeling of sitting inside a court room while the trial judge ignores basic protections of due process, statutory enactments as well as prior doctrine is a life-changing experience. The homeowner has a right to expect existing doctrine, laws and rules of procedure be strictly applied before a foreclosure sale yet millions of Americans have been denied due process with no consideration regarding how this event will affect the homeowner and their immediate family. There is little consideration given to the psychological and physical trauma that occurs because these disorders are mostly invisible. Post-traumatic stress disorder is one of these invisible traumas suffered by those who fight foreclosure.

Stress-related illnesses, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) trigger changes in brain structure, including differences in the volume of gray matter versus white matter, as well as the and size and connectivity of the amygdala. Researchers are just now beginning to understand exactly how chronic stress creates long-lasting changes in brain structure which affect how the brain functions. Thus, foreclose is not a one-time event but a life-long transformation in the majority of people who are subjected to the events leading up to foreclosure, as well as the aftermath.

In a series of revolutionary experiments, Daniela Kaufer, UC Berkeley associate professor of integrative biology, and her colleagues, discovered that chronic stress and elevated levels of cortisol can generate more overproduction of myelin-producing cells and fewer neurons than normal. Kaufer et al published their findings in the February 11, 2014 issue of the journal Molecular Psychiatry.

Chronic Stress Changes Neural Networks

The “gray matter” of the brain is densely packed with nerve cell bodies and is responsible for the brain’s higher functions, such as thinking, computing, and decision-making. But gray matter is only half of our brain matter —the other half of brain volume is called white matter.

White matter is comprised of axons, which create a network of fibers that interconnect neurons and creates a communications network between brain regions. White matter gets its name from the white, fatty myelin sheath that surrounds the axons and speeds the flow of electrical signals between neurons and brain regions.

White matter alterations are noted in schizophrenia, autism, depression, suicide, ADHD and PTSD. The hippocampus regulates emotions, memory and is implicated in emotional disorders that likely result from shrinkage from extended periods of acute stress. If the average disputed foreclosure proceeds for at least five years or more, the homeowner will be subjected to thousands of days of stress, anxiety, and lost sleep resulting in brain alterations.

Researchers have also discovered that hardening pathways may be at the heart of the hyper-connected circuits associated with prolonged stress. This results in an excess of myelin—and too much white matter—in some areas of the brain. Ideally, the brain likes to trim the fat of excess wiring through neural pruning in order to maintain efficiency and streamlined communication within the brain. However, when the brain can't prune excess matter the brain circuitry is adversely impacted.

Cortisol Can Trigger Stem Cells to Malfunction

The 'stress hormone' cortisol creates a domino effect that hard-wires pathways between the hippocampus and amygdala that may create a vicious cycle by creating a brain that becomes predisposed to be in a constant state of fight-or-flight. A homeowner under constant threat of foreclosure or continuously engaged with pleadings, motions and responses will remain in a heightened fight or flight mode. Homeowners I have spoken with who are in foreclosure say that there are small daily triggers that cause stress surges throughout the day. These triggers include getting the mail, checking email, or even driving by a bank with the name of the servicer. Living in a constant state of anxiety, while wondering what the bank's next tactic will be is a game changer.

Chronic stress has the ability to flip a switch in stem cells that turns them into a type of cell that inhibits connections to the prefrontal cortex, which would improve learning and memory, but instead lays down brain scaffolding linked to anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Rats who live under conditions that create chronic or acute stress fail to develop glial cells called astrocytes like they would under less stressful conditions but instead develop oligodendrocyte cells that produced myelin that sheaths newer cells.

Rats who have high levels of cortisol and chronic stress also have fewer neurons overall but a big increase in oligodendrocytes. This is not good news. This excessive sheathing may have evolved to bolster the connection between the amygdala and hippocampus, which would improve fight-or-flight responses during extended periods of threat or attack but unfortunately, in a modern world, chronic stress can hijack the fight-or-flight system and backfire in daily life when you are not in physical danger. However, being under a constant barrage of legal filings and enmeshed in a world where you don't understand the rules can keep a homeowner hyper-vigilant of any perceived threat- even perceived threats that have nothing to do with foreclosure.

Chronic stress can have a serious impact on our physical as well as psychological health due to sustained high levels of the chemicals released in the 'fight or flight' response.

The sympathetic automatic nervous system (ANS) takes over after a stressful event by decreasing heartbeat and relaxing blood vessels. Unfortunately, people with financial problems have a sympathetic ANS that remains on guard, making them unable to relax and preventing the parasympathetic system from taking over. When this situation becomes chronic, stress-related symptoms and illnesses can follow.

Mind and body are inextricably linked and the interaction between them can produce physical changes and illness. When the brain notices a stressor, a physical reaction is triggered, and the reaction can lead to further emotional reactions as well as mental and physical damage. Issues like headaches and muscle tension are often directly caused by the physiological reactions. Many other disorders are aggravated by stress. The most common health issues include:

Heart Problems

Over the long term, people who react more to stress have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease. The common stress reaction of eating comfort foods, with their accompanying fat and salt, is not beneficial to the heart either.


High Blood Pressure

Known as hypertension, this is a very common chronic disease which usually has no obvious symptoms. Hypertension raises your risk of stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and heart attack.

Stress increases blood pressure in the short term, so chronic stress may contribute to a permanently raised blood pressure..

Susceptibility to Infection

Stress damages and suppresses the autoimmune system making you more vulnerable to infections. Allergies and autoimmune diseases (including arthritis and multiple sclerosis) may be exacerbated by stress.

Skin Problems

Stress is known to aggravate skin problems such as acne, psoriasis and eczema. It also has been linked to unexplained itchy skin rashes. Experiencing these skin problems is intensely stressful.


Continued stimulation of muscles through prolonged stress can lead to muscular pain such as backache. Fibromyalgia and other pain disorders are frequently cited in people who endure prolonged stress and traumatic events.

Stress also is thought to aggravate underlying painful conditions such as herniated discs and repetitive strain injury. Many migraine sufferers say that stress contributes to their headaches, which can be debilitating for days.


Evidence demonstrates that chronic stress may lead to insulin-dependent diabetes in people who are predisposed to the disease. It could be that stress causes the immune system to destroy insulin-producing cells.

It is important that foreclosure attorneys, homeowners, judges and government agencies understand that foreclosure is not about simply losing a home and moving forward- foreclosure is about being held hostage in a hostile system where civil and criminal law is suspended and the homeowner has no due process or legal protections. If you are suffering from depression, anxiety or believe you have post-traumatic stress disorder it is important to meet with a health professional for assistance because mental health issues often evolve into debilitating physical health issues.

If you are going to litigate a foreclosure issue you better plan on having a team of talented professionals in your corner. Not only will you need a talented attorney but you might want to have access to a mental health professional that understand stress and trauma, as well as a good internist who can interpret any symptoms, health changes or diagnostics that serve as warning signs.







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