Symptom or diagnosis?

Mental health problems and housing issues are a two-way street.

Mental Health in Housing

Mental health problems can lead to housing issues and housing issues can lead to mental-health problems.

Tenants with mental-health problems are at risk of becoming stuck on that street.

It is no longer the case that mental health problems are a taboo.

Instead, people feel more at ease talking about their internal struggles.

Whether it is a change of perception or reality, we are coming across an increasing number of cases, within the housing sector, where mental health problems play an important part.

We frequently receive cases where a tenant has breached their tenancy, and the root cause is mental-health problems.

Property condition is a prime example of this.

We regularly find that the root cause of hoarding or just a more general failure to keep a property in good condition is linked with mental health problems – in particular OCD.

A symptom of OCD can be an inability to part with anything, even waste.

Another symptom may be that everywhere needs to be sterilely clean.

However, when it becomes impossible to achieve that objective the person can become metaphorically paralysed with failure and despair and can become so overwhelmed by these feelings that they become incapable of maintaining their property.

Traditional legal remedies such as an injunction will not help the tenant who is stuck in what experts refer to as ‘brain lock’, an inescapable cycle of rituals and feelings of dread.

What that person needs is professional help and support.

If that person does not receive the support they need they will not be able to stop breaching their tenancy.

They could then lose their home, which will only exacerbate the underlying cause.

However, due to public sector cuts, we frequently come across tenants who have ‘slipped through the net’ in terms of receiving professional help.

Austerity has meant that statutory agencies simply do not have the resources they need to provide necessary support.

This, combined with issues surrounding insufficient data sharing, can mean that tenants with mental health problems are not getting the support they need.

This is where housing plays a key role.

Housing officers frequently tell us their role has changed and that they feel they must take on the duties of a social worker in addition to everything else they need to deal with.

While that is not the answer, Registered Providers can, and often do, source the support needed to bridge the gap.

Registered Providers are keen to invoke the assistance of third parties, for example, relevant charities, to provide necessary support to their tenants.

However, one thing is clear: The housing sector plays a crucial role in bridging the gap to assist tenants to sustain their tenancies and not become engulfed in a perpetual cycle of futility.

Lucie Cocker’s piece appeared in 24houisng’s May edition.