How housing inequalities impact on mental health and wellbeing

During Mental Health Awareness Week, we should reflect on how housing inequality can impact mental health, and talk about how to tackle that.

Amanda Tomlinson is Chief Executive of Black Country Housing Group

Amanda Tomlinson is Chief Executive of Black Country Housing Group

15 May 2019

The report, Creating a Wellbeing Society – Scoping Housing Need, Homelessness and Mental Health in the West Midlands Conurbation, has found that people with mental health problems are more likely to be in housing need – finding themselves in rented accommodation, social housing, and in overcrowded or poor housing. This is partly linked to their lower socioeconomic life chances brought about by wider inequalities.

Professor Pickett, the co-author of international bestsellers The Spirit Level, and The Inner Level, has revealed how people living in societies with large income gaps are more likely to suffer from a wide range of health and social problems compared to those living in more equal societies. This includes the psychological effects of social stress and more prevalent mental health problems. 

Precarious private tenancies, forced frequent moves, the threat of eviction, and the location of rented housing in deprived locations, all exacerbate mental health problems and reduce wellbeing.

Homelessness is both a cause of, and a symptom of, poor mental health and low wellbeing.

  • Half of homeless people have been diagnosed with a mental health problem, compared to one quarter of the general population.
  • A third of homeless people have reported suicidal thoughts and two thirds have panic attacks.
  • Over two thirds of homeless people have felt depressed.
  • 1 in 10 homeless people have been diagnosed with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia.
  • Two fifths of homeless people have had drug or alcohol problems.

Status anxiety, often stemming from inequalities in social class, is stoked by negative portrayals in the media and the stereotyping of social housing as a ‘tenure of last resort’. Social stigma remains a problem for many social tenants, and can compound things if a tenant is experiencing difficult financial circumstances. This includes debt, which is strongly associated with poor mental health.

How social tenants are portrayed by the media and others can severely affect wellbeing. For example, in this new research, when social tenants were asked how their general health and wellbeing had changed in recent years, 57% said that their health and wellbeing had worsened. Only 8% registered improvements, and 35% said they had stayed the same.

The importance of tackling wider inequalities in income, wealth and tenure to improve an array of housing, health and social problems is underscored by research supported by Black Country Housing Group.

That is why we have promoted mental health awareness among tenant and staff alike, and why I think it’s particularly pertinent to reflect on housing inequality this week.

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