A home is far more than just bricks. It's where we should feel safe and secure, and be able to focus on staying well. That's why, last week, we held an event in Parliament called Beyond Bricks to talk about our latest campaign raising the issues around housing and mental health. Three attendees, Tony, Maggie and Nicola share their different experiences of the event – why it was important to them, how they felt and what they see as the possible solutions.
Nicola is one of our media volunteers. She lives in London in a small council house with her two children. As her children get older, they’re all really struggling to manage in the space they have and Nicola’s mental health has deteriorated. Despite explaining about her situation to the council, she’s continued to be ignored. Here's what she said about the event:
Being invited the House of Parliament with Mind to discuss housing and the effects it has on mental health was fantastic for me because this is something that I’ve had direct experience of and really wanted to raise awareness of. It was so great speaking to people with similar issues - I realised I wasn’t alone and that this is a much bigger problem.
It was so great speaking to people with similar issues - I realised I wasn’t alone and that this is a much bigger problem.
Not only are we struggling in London but we are struggling all around the country too. It was also positive speaking with housing professionals who said they felt the same way and wanted the same in terms of improvements, help and support.
It was such a shame that there were no officials from the borough where I am from, but my hopes moving forward is that this is an eye opener for everyone involved and they will spread the message to others. All the ideas and thoughts put forward at the event will be in my prayers in hope of seeing and living with the results/ I hope it helps towards creating happier and mentally healthier minds and attitudes.
Tony is one of our campaigners from Liverpool. He has experiences of depression and anxiety. After applying for social housing and waiting for several years, when he did finally get a home, it was in an area with high anti-social behaviour where he was threatened frequently. Here's what he said about the event:
I arrived at Westminster two hours early to familiarise myself with the area and gather my thoughts. When I looked at the Parliament building, I felt overawed! Who was I to be here? Who was I to give an opinion? When I went in, I felt a little inadequate next to people dressed smartly in suits. I was met by two representatives from Mind who were lovely but my anxiety levels continued to shoot through the roof, so much so, I struggled for breath as the adrenaline shot through my body.
Seated at the table, I started to relax a little. However once the conversation started anxiety and panic kicked in again. Desperate to get my experiences out, I felt myself becoming hyped up, with a mixture of excitement of getting our voices heard and paranoia. What were these people thinking about as I bared a little of my soul? What kind of judgements were going through their head?
Speaking openly about how vulnerable I've been in different housing situations, a history of violence, excessive alcohol consumption, depression and repeated suicide attempts can feel crippling. But I feel this needs to be done to get the voices of those of us with mental health problems heard.
At one stage I struggled to cope and I left the building for a short while for some fresh air. On returning I felt a lot of anger as I listened to politicians who were giving speeches. I’ve heard it all before and nothing seems to get done. At the table they seemed like nice people, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my pain was falling on deaf ears?
At the table they seemed like nice people, but I couldn’t help but wonder if my pain was falling on deaf ears?
At 46 years old, with many negative experiences concerning my mental health I have a burning passion to turn them into a positive and help in whatever small way. Whether it’s making the path smoother for younger generations in housing or in any other situations in life. This is why I wanted to be part of this event.
I really hope the politicians did listen and more importantly they act in some way to implement changes for more accessible safe housing. It’s important that they have an understanding of individual’s needs and not just symptoms from a text book. I know it won't happen overnight - I just hope our efforts will start the cogs of change.
It’s important that they have an understanding of individual’s needs and not just symptoms from a text book. I know it won't happen overnight - I just hope our efforts will start the cogs of change.
Maggie is a programme manager for the Hyde Group, a housing association which operates in London, the South East, the East of England and the East Midlands. Here's what she said about the event:
We felt it was important to attend Mind’s event because we as a housing providers have a responsibility to engage with these issues. Research that Hyde carried out with the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute last year show that whilst social housing landlords are better than their private sector counterparts in terms of supporting those in rent arrears who experience poor mental health, there is still so much we can do to improve our supporting this area as a whole. Social housing landlords should develop housing management practice which promote good mental health, and ensure our staff are trained to deal with those of our residents who experience poor mental health, whether related to their housing situation or not. Hyde is making progress in this area, however as a sector we can’t do this in isolation.
Social housing landlords should develop housing management practice which promote good mental health
It was great to see such a diverse crowd at the Beyond Bricks event, and I enjoyed the opportunity to discuss the challenge in small groups. It was especially valuable to hear from people with experience of mental health and housing issues, and understand what they felt worked and didn’t work.
It was especially valuable to hear from people with experience of mental health and housing issues, and understand what they felt worked and didn’t work.
It was also encouraging that so many MPs took times out of their schedule to attend and listen.
I think the key to resolving these issues is better joined up thinking at all levels- from government policy makers to different departments with local authorities, through to more effective partnerships with charities. A whole system approach is needed so that -for example- there is a clear understanding amongst policy makers how a change in the benefit system might affect local authority housing allocations and consequently how a housing provider might respond to address any local challenges that arise. The event was a great starting point and a good indication of the desire that exists to resolve this issue; now we need focus on specific action.