Millions of people in England are suffering a deterioration in their mental health because of housing problems, with many seeking help from their GPs.
The report from Shelter and ComRes shows one in five adults (21%) have experienced issues including long-term stress, anxiety and depression due to a housing problem over the last five years. In some of the worst cases, people are even having suicidal thoughts.
Additionally, one in six adults (17%) say the pressure of housing problems has also affected their physical health with some reporting symptoms such as hair loss, nausea, exhaustion, dizzy spells and headaches.
Showing how linked housing and mental health are, the research shows a vast majority (69%) of people who have experienced housing problems in the last five years such as poor conditions, struggling to pay the rent or being threatened with eviction, have reported a negative impact on their mental health.
The charity is urging anyone overwhelmed by housing problems to get advice from Shelter, after an in-depth investigation with 20 GPs revealed many people are having to visit their doctor owing to bad housing. Findings include:
- GPs say some patients are diagnosed with anxiety and depression directly due to housing problems
- Bad housing is tipping people with existing mental health issues ‘over the edge’
- Poor housing conditions are having the biggest effect on mental health but unaffordable and unstable rented housing are also having a negative impact
- GPs feel they need more help in supporting patients experiencing these problems.
Shelter legal adviser, Liz Clare, said: “Every day at Shelter we hear from people at breaking point because they can no longer cope with their unstable, unlivable or unaffordable housing.
“From families in fear of falling further behind on the rent to people dealing with the misery of raising young children in a tiny, mouldy, freezing flat – people can feel completely overwhelmed.
“But getting advice and support for housing problems early can ease the pressure and stop things spiraling out of control. Shelter’s free expert advice is only a click or conversation away – visit shelter.org.uk/advice as a starting point or pop into your local Shelter service.”
When Brenda from Manchester was evicted from her home, she spiraled into a deep depression, but things started to turn around when she got legal help from Shelter.
Brenda says: “When I look back on that time, it’s just like a big fog to me. I was chronically depressed and it just felt like all the doors were closing in my face. You blame yourself and you feel a sense of total helplessness. I remember not wanting to go on and wondering if I should end it.
“But when I finally spoke to a Shelter adviser, I just broke down and sobbed because she was the first person who had asked how they could help me. It was the beginning of me taking back some control. I think about that call practically every day. All you need is someone to listen.”
Dr Andrew Carr from London, who took part in the Shelter study, said: “I see how much housing is a problem in my work every day, and it’s unusual for people not to have mental health burdens if they’re in inadequate or unstable housing.
“With evictions on the rise in my area, I’ve seen people with acute anxiety or severe stress because they’re facing the threat of losing their home. I always encourage patients to seek advice on housing problems as soon as possible, and I have seen first-hand the benefits of this on their mental wellbeing.”
Shelter legal adviser Liz Clare’s top five tips on easing the pressure of housing problems:
- Making a start can make all the difference. Whatever the housing pressure, if it’s affecting your mental health, take the first step towards getting help at www.shelter.org.uk/advice
- If you’re living in a home that isn’t up to scratch, find out what your landlord should do to fix bad conditions
- If you’re falling behind on the rent, get advice and help on negotiating on rent arrears
- Talk to one of Shelter’s housing advisers straight away if you’re facing eviction
- You can get help for mental health issues through charities like Rethink or Mind, or speak to your local GP.