The Question of Housing For People With Mental Health Issues #schizophrenia #bipolar #mania #depression #home #mentalhealth #psychiatry


One of the first and most essential issues a person with a mental illness has to face is that of housing. A good deal of people who are leaving the hospital or have been in the hospital/psychiatric ward for a while, is where are they going to do, and what are they going to do? Having something to do, ie a job/volunteer job, a hobby such as running, walking or swimming, can be essential to the well being of someone with mental health issues and should be given top consideration. I am so lucky to live in Edmonton, Alberta because I have a low income, and the city of Edmonton provides low cost bus passes and free fitness passes to me and everyone else who qualifies (mostly those with disabilities, but also seniors and others). It can be extremely helpful to have a YMCA in the city or town you chose to live in because they are known for providing low-cost facilities to people with low income or disability, and from what I have seen, they have some nice places.

The really big question a person with a psychiatric disability has to ask themselves is, should I live in a city or a town? The fact is, you are going to need some important services such as access to a psychiatrist and possibly a mental health clinic, plus pharmacy and reasonably priced meals and accommodations. When I left the hospital some 20 years ago, I had little choice. The first place I went was a group home where the woman who owned it wanted just extra income and free labour from her tenants. I needed to get out of there and nearly moved into an apartment on my own when I wasn’t ready just to get away from the horrible person that ran that place.

My social worker at the mental health clinic found another group home for me to live in, and in so many ways it was perfect. Everything was paid for in one lump sum, and all I had to do each day was show up for meals and get my medications. Sadly after living there for a very long time, one of the unqualified staff members seemed to want to go on a power trip and make an example out of me. I wasn’t kicked out, but I was asked to move into a subsidized apartment, something that was an excellent choice for me at the time. It was hard to keep my sleeping hours straight and I had to all of a sudden take care of a lot of things, but I ended up enjoying it greatly and was able to focus on the work I liked to do and I also no longer had to feel embarrassed that I was living in a place where I was treated like a child and stuffed into a house with several roommates. The rent subsidy was significant though, and it allowed me to have a comfortable existence without having to strain to work hard.

Something I really want to cover in my blogs as much as I can is the situation for people in the United States. I often consider how difficult it must be to survive down there on much less income than I get in some places that are more expensive to live in. Something my sister warned me about when she first moved out was that you really have to take care of your health. Brush your teeth all the time, don’t watch TV in the dark, don’t go out when you can cook at home, and share your place with someone if you aren’t married. All these little things, like fillings or glasses can be crippling to someone trying hard to make it on their own. Perhaps the worst part of it is that mental illness destroys families and family is all that some people have.

There are so many choices to make, it can be important to write out your plans and wishes before you leave the hospital (and show it to your doctor, he or she may find it encouraging to see you taking the reigns of your life). Once I was given some excellent advice, a doctor told me that I should look for a roommate who is studying in the psychology department of the University. I have to warn everyone that it isn’t a good idea to make close friends with people you are in the hospital or psychiatric ward with. These people are dealing with a lot of their own problems just like you are and this can make it very difficult to keep a happy home going.

So, the big choice is, city or country. If you have support, if you grew up in a small town and you have family there, I would say go ahead and love every minute of it. For those who don’t though, being in the city can be the only really logical choice. You will have access to so many more services, not to mention the large grocery stores that give way better deals than small town grocery stores that have cornered the market. Not to say you can’t find a medium sized town with most of these advantages though.

Depending on the state of your mental health, you may want to go the route I did and find a group home run by a charity. Places like this can be very supportive, understanding, and low-stress. Keep your eyes peeled for a subsidized/rent controlled apartment. What sometimes happens is really sad, a person leaves the hospital and has to go into a shelter, then forced by circumstance they take a small 10×15 foot housekeeping room and they not only face things like isolation and poor hygiene, they get lonely and often in these smaller rooming houses a lot of people can be lost in their addictions. All too soon it becomes tempting to make friends with these people and slip into their world. Before you know it, you might be back in the hospital but now with an addiction and a mental health issue. I don’t want to sound like I am preaching, this is information I actually read in a current textbook for social workers.

There are a lot of things to keep in mind when choosing a home to live in. You want to get the nicest place you can afford, but that may end you up right back looking for a rooming house. If you are healthy enough to not need a group home, why not partner up with a reliable person and rent a house and then rent one or two rooms to reputable students? Make sure though that you have your space and that the rules of living there are written out and understood. I lived in a house with roommates once and I found it difficult to deal with the fact that it was very hard to find a place to read quietly. Make note if any of your roommates play a musical instrument or like to play their music loud. Compromises can often be found.

I could really speak volumes on this topic, but I want to say here quickly that your first goal is to make that difficult transition from the hospital to more independence and then to transition from assisted living to independent. If you go to a group home, while you are there join a cooking class and look for home economics courses. I don’t know if I could ever leave Edmonton not just because my family is mostly here, but also because I get a great deal of support from the Schizophrenia Society of Alberta here. Make a list of what advantages you get in different types of places and rate them on a scale of 1 to 10. Add up the scores and think hard about following a logical conclusion. Nearby clinic? Discount grocery store accessible? Can I afford this place? Do I have the skills to manage on my own, and if not, do I have people I can call for advice? What are some of the strategies I can take for coping with boredom and loneliness?

Look on the lighter side of things as well. If you can work your way up to having your own apartment, you may never have to eat liver and onions again. Think of how great it will one day feel to lock your door and go in your own bathroom and have a long, hot bath while reading a book and playing some light rock on a radio. Have a great day everyone, and never forget to reach out if you have to.

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