This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. We’ve made big strides in recent years when it comes to recognising the importance of mental health, which is vital given that two thirds of us experience a mental health problem in our lifetime.
This year, the focus for Awareness Week is on stress. As well as being a mental health problem itself, stress is also a key cause of other problems such as loneliness, anxiety and depression. A Mental Health Foundation poll conducted by YouGov found 51% of adults who felt stressed reported feeling depressed and 61% reported feeling anxious, while 37% felt lonely as a result of stress. Unsurprisingly, this can lead to impacts on physical health too. In the same survey, stress resulted in people eating too much (46%), and increasing both drinking (29%) and smoking (16%).
Housing also comes through as a key issue for people who experience stress, with third of 18 - 24 year olds pointing to housing as a key source of their stress.
Housing can also make a mental health problem worse for those who are already struggling with one. Mind’s recent survey of 1780 people with mental a health problem found nearly four in five said that a housing situation had made their mental health worse, while more than two in three said they had a problem with the quality of their housing.
We know that people with longer-term mental health problems are more likely to live in rented housing. The Mind survey showed that one in four tenants with mental health problems are behind on paying rent, which is likely to increase stress in their lives.
Clearly, good housing is central to good mental health. Most housing providers recognise this, which is why many of them provide a range of services and support to help people with their mental health and those issues that can make it worse. To be effective, it’s really important these services reach people as early as possible. The longer someone suffers with a mental health problem the worse it is for them, and the harder it is to help them. This can sometimes be difficult though, as someone only comes on the radar when their issue has escalated.
One way for housing providers to ensure they reach people before their mental health deteriorates is with mental health awareness training for their staff. Training can help us understand how mental health affects both ourselves and others, and equip us to spot the signs, triggers and symptoms of a mental health issue. It can also offer some guidance on how to manage your own mental health or support others with theirs.
Frontline staff have the most interaction with residents and are often most able to spot when someone is unwell and struggling, if they know what to look for. Offering basic mental health awareness training can equip them to do this, to be able to notice signs that might indicate an early stage of somebody’s mental health suffering, and also look after themselves.
Having a group of staff out and about who can spot warning signs can help housing providers identify people who need a bit of support. Supporting someone at an earlier stage, can help both the individual and the provider, particularly if it helps prevents rent arrears.
But mental health awareness isn’t just about who we work with, but about how we look after ourselves. Frontline roles in housing can be stressful and emotionally demanding, particularly when hearing about how others experience difficulties in their lives. Staff tell us how they often pick up the stress and anxiety being felt by the residents they work with. This is normal but needs to be actively managed and understood. Staff need the basic tools to look after themselves if they are going to empathise and help others with theirs.
During our recent work with Morgan Hunt and Learning Curve Group on their adult education programme, a significant number of frontline staff from the Housing Association partners requested enrollment onto one or more of the Mental Health Awareness programmes themselves. Although the organisations themselves have been promoting this type of training, it is interesting that staff have been actively been pursuing it, seeing it as a valuable commodity in their skills bank. There are far reaching implications of the availability of this type of training for all aspects of frontline staff, Housing Offices, Income Teams, Repairs and Maintenance Operative, Cleaners etc., in being able to support residents in need. Awareness of Mental Health issues has a hugely positive effect on both staff and residents, and hopefully we are seeing a shift to this type of training becoming far more mainstream For more detail about MH Foundation, please click here.
For more information on the Morgan Hunt Learning Curve Group project, please email firstname.lastname@example.org