World Mental Health Day: My housing cost me my mental health

As somebody who has experienced mental health problems and been made homeless, here’s my story.

eviction

Early in the morning, just over a year ago on August 25, I awoke to the sound of someone drilling out the lock of our front door.

Disorientated, I sat up as my son walked into my bedroom pale and terrified.

This was the day we were to be evicted.

I will never forget that nightmare day because the aftermath of August 25, 2017, still lives on.

I was hospitalised after having a breakdown, my business fell apart, my son missed out on sitting his A levels, my daughter left the country and I lost touch with my friends.

And we are still on the housing waiting list trying to find something more suitable.

I’d never taken a day off work for mental health reasons – yet the housing situation left me hospitalised.

I had been living with depression for many years, but I was managing it well.

In fact, I don’t think I’d ever taken a day off work because of my mental health problems back when I was teaching.

Sadly, as much as I enjoyed my job as a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Foreign Languages) teacher, government cuts saw me being made redundant, but I managed to find part time work as a private tutor.

In 2011, having sold my flat after the redundancy, we moved into our three-bedroom family home in Hackney.

My daughter was at university and my son was at secondary school, hoping to follow in his sister’s footsteps.

I was asked by the landlady to pay a year’s rent up front because of my employment situation.

The rent was steep but there were very few properties on the market at the time and I couldn’t afford to buy again, so I handed over a substantial £31,000 to secure the house thanks to the money I made from selling the flat.

By 2014, with my bank account basically haemorrhaging money and there being very few employment options open to me, I decided to launch my own teaching business and I updated my skills by taking new training courses.

However, I struggled to make the required income and ended up applying for housing benefit.

We were offered support for around six months, but after that, the housing benefit dwindled to nothing and, being unable to make up the shortfall, I began borrowing money.

I did look for alternative accommodation in the area but I couldn’t find anything affordable.

I also began sub-letting a room, with permission from my landlady, to help make up some of the rent.

The uncertainty and stress had a hugely negative impact on my mental health at this point, and my depression and anxiety became very difficult to manage.

In October that year, I had to seek help from NHS mental health services as I felt almost suicidal.

My business continued but I had little time to develop it and it sort of limped along while I tried to keep it afloat.

It all came to a head in October 2016, when I could no longer pay the rent and was accepted as ‘unintentionally homeless’ by Hackney Council.

And so there I was in August 2017, waking up to the sound of the bailiffs entering our family home.

That day I cried hysterically.

We spent the entire day in shock in the service centre, my son missing his interview for sixth form as we were kept there until closing time when we were abruptly given the address of a B&B.

Two days later, we were given another address in Tottenham that was to be our home – miles away from my son’s school and our friends.

Not only that, it was a studio flat, which meant that I had to share a bed with my 16-year old son.

I collapsed and had a nervous breakdown at the service centre.

My son had to walk me to hospital where I was admitted to the mental health unit.

However, my son needed me at home, so I left after three days and came under the care of the home treatment team.

Eventually, we were moved back to Hackney, but we still only have a one-bedroom home to share.

I try to sleep in the living room but with next door’s late-night parties and a sofa to sleep on I am consistently sleep deprived and my mental health continues to suffer.

The lack of space means that I can no longer work from home and the fact that many of my belongings were thrown out by one of my landlords – including many personal photos and family mementos – has been really upsetting.

I also no longer have the cooking equipment I used to use, so we don’t eat as well, and the flat is in serious disrepair and unhygienic.

To add to all of this, my son was asked to leave school because of his grades.

I do believe that my hospitalisation could have been avoided if the housing team was more knowledgeable about my mental health needs.

Perhaps training should be a priority in this sector due to the significant impact that housing can have on mental health.

As somebody living with depression, being forced to move away from friends, feeling isolated, enduring antisocial behaviour from neighbours and living in cramped and unhygienic conditions significantly impacts my mental health.

In my view, if somebody is due to be evicted, the council should be acting more quickly to re-house them and take the time to find somewhere suitable.

Leaving it to vulnerable people and children to deal with it is traumatic and can exacerbate mental health problems further.

I also feel that there should be more legislation around rent controls – particularly in the private rented sector.

When there’s very little housing available and your only option is to pay an extortionate amount to have your own bedroom, it’s simply not right.

Additionally, as Mind’s recent housing research showed, there isn’t consistent data being collected about who is living with a mental health problem within the housing system.

How can we be supported if nobody knows what our needs are?

The government should work towards making data collection consistent across the UK.

It’s time housing officials and the government took mental health into account when allocating housing and setting policy.

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