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Am J Public Health. 2015 May;105(5):1008-12. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2014.302400. Epub 2015 Mar 19.

"When you're in a crisis like that, you don't want people to know": mortgage strain, stigma, and mental health.

Author information

Danya E. Keene is with the Social Behavioral Sciences Division, Yale School of Public Health, New Haven, CT. Sarah K. Cowan is with the Department of Sociology, New York University, New York, NY, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars Program, Columbia University, New York, NY. Amy Castro Baker is with the College of Health Sciences, University of Wyoming, Laramie.



We analyzed experiences of stigmatization, concealment, and isolation among African American homeowners who were experiencing mortgage strain.


We conducted semistructured interviews between March 2012 and May 2013 with 28 African American homeowners in a northeastern US city who were experiencing mortgage strain. We coded all of the transcripts and reviewed data for codes relating to stigma, sharing information, social support, social isolation, and the meaning of homeownership.


Our data showed that mortgage strain can be a concealable stigma. Participants internalized this stigma, expressing shame about their mortgage situation. Additionally, some participants anticipated that others would view them as less worthy given their mortgage trouble. In an effort to avoid stigmatization, many concealed their mortgage trouble, which often led to isolation. This stigmatization, concealment, and isolation seemed to contribute to participants' depression, anxiety, and emotional distress.


Stigma may exacerbate stress associated with mortgage strain and contribute to poor mental health, particularly among upwardly mobile African Americans who have overcome significant structural barriers to home ownership. Reducing stigma associated with mortgage strain may help to reduce the health consequences of this stressful life event.

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