In November 2017, the charity Mind launched Brick by Brick, a report into the links between housing and mental health, from a six-year study of over 40,000 households.
I recently attended a Mind event in Parliament, sponsored by the Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Select Committee, Clive Betts MP, to discuss the progress made since the report as well as how we can work together to place mental health at the heart of future housing policy.
While I offered our perspective on the links between housing and mental health, it also set me thinking about the steps that Sovereign is taking and where we could do more to support our residents in managing mental health issues.
The Mind report highlighted one in four tenants with mental health problems are in serious rent arrears and therefore at risk of losing their home.
This is an area I think we at Sovereign can be proud of. Last year, we worked with more than 2,243 residents, offering tenancy support advice. However, we know that we need to pay attention to our residents and offer support much earlier.
Money worries are something that affect many of us, but add in the extra level of mental health issues and what starts out small can rapidly grow out of control. The questions that arise from this are: do we know if a member of the family has mental health issue? How do we know if their mental health is the reason they are struggling with arrears? How can we adjust our service for people with a mental health problem?
But it’s more than the services we provide, it’s about where people live and the community that surrounds them.
Often single people with a mental health issue are a priority for housing specifically because of their mental health. However, the accommodation for these new residents is generally all in one place, by virtue of the fact that it is often one-bed flats in a block. This creates a concentration of people with a similar need for support, but different vulnerabilities, all in one place.
This is where sensitive local lettings plans come into play, as our housing and lettings teams work closely together to try and ensure that we help create communities where residents want to live. It seems like common sense, but making sure that we take the mental health of our existing residents into account, as well as considering that of new residents enables us to provide stable homes and places where our residents can be happy.
I know some organisations provide all of their front line staff mental health first aid training. This is a great idea and certainly making our employees aware of the signs to look out for and how to talk to people with mental health issues – demystifying them and debunking myths – is extremely valuable.
There’s work to do, but if we can take time and really listen, to flex and adapt how we do things – for our colleagues, residents and our communities – brick by brick we will build something to be proud of.