For people navigating their way through a bankruptcy or foreclosure — two of the most stressful events that can occur for a person under financial strain — some help is offered to get them back on their feet, such as the mandatory financial education course in bankruptcy cases.
But when the weight of financial ruin is also crushing its victims emotionally, what sort of help is offered?
It's a disconnect that is alarming considering recent high-profile acts of violence connected to severe financial anguish, as well as the huge increases in the number of people winding their way through the court systems.
We will never know if anything could have prevented the shooting last week, in which a man walked inside the downtown Orlando engineering firm that fired him, killing Otis Beckford and injuring five others.
We do know that Jason Rodriguez, 40, who contended with underemployment and bankruptcy, is the latest person alleged to let his torment bubble over into a violent rage.
The death of Diane Ward, a 55-year-old mother of two, also prompted vast attention because she died inside her home in Isleworth, one of Orlando's richest addresses. Police charged her husband, Bob Ward, with shooting her in the head in September as he was contending with the bankruptcy of his companies as well as foreclosure.
How many other Otis Beckfords or Diane Wards are out there who we never hear about because their deaths aren't as public or they don't live in a swanky neighborhood?
"We don't know how many times these cases cause those kinds of pressures when they're not on the 11 o'clock news because they are not in the right ZIP code," said U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Arthur Briskman.
My guess is that there are many who suffer silently from domestic violence, depression, anxiety or other problems brought on by financial hurt without knowing where to turn for help.
The Middle District, which includes Orlando and runs from Fort Myers to Jacksonville, is now the second-busiest in the nation for bankruptcy filings, behind only Southern California. As of last month, there were 51,812 total filings in the district for 2009, up 48 percent over the same time last year.
And already the number of foreclosure filings this year in Orange County Circuit Court has outpaced the total for all of last year at 26,455.
Of course, not everyone going through bankruptcy, foreclosure or other financial hardship is in need of mental health services. But there is no denying the toll it takes on some people.
Briskman, who has been on the bench in Florida for 16 years, says the very idea of bankruptcy is to act as a release valve for this sort of pressure.
"The whole idea of bankruptcy is not the end," he said. "It's really a fresh start."
But it may not feel that way to those going through it. They may feel that they have lost too much to begin again.
The stigma of bankruptcy, foreclosure or other financial distress is still a source of anxiety.
Without any formal system to connect people going through these proceedings with the proper resources, lawyers are on the front lines.
"I've started keeping several psychologists' cards in my desk," said Elizabeth Green, a bankruptcy partner at Baker Hostetler.
If you need help now, dial 211, a crisis line operated by United Way that handles all manner of needs from assistance paying rent or utilities to mental health services. Lake County residents can call 352-483-2800.
Orange County Circuit Court already includes 211 on an informational sheet related to foreclosure filings, but doesn't specifically state that mental health services are available. The court should make that distinction and provide a list of additional resources as well. The federal courts should follow that lead and provide the same to bankruptcy filers. What better clearinghouse to spread the word about free or low-cost help than the court systems that see thousands of people each month?
A previous version of this column reported the incorrect time frame for the number of bankruptcy filings to date in 2009.
Beth Kassab can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5448. Read her blog at orlandosentinel.com/thebottomline.
Here are the story of the
victim that committed suicide because they were facing Foreclosure
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