This week’s infographic, produced by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), takes a look at the link between housing and mental health. As Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital, CAMH combines clinical care, health promotion, and policy development to help positively impact the lives of individuals severely affected by mental health issues.
The infographic explores Ontario’s shortage of affordable and supportive housing. It states that over a 160,000 households are waiting for affordable housing and almost half of those waiting live in Toronto. The average wait time for affordable housing across Ontario is four years and in Toronto that increases to seven years. In Ontario, we are fortunate to have different types of affordable housing, some units are designed and supported with mental health needs in mind. Unfortunately, there are over 8,000 people on the waitlist for mental health supportive housing in Toronto alone, with an average wait time of over five years.
Considerable research suggests that affordable and supportive housing are cost effective compared to other alternatives. The daily cost of subsidizing affordable housing is significantly less than costs associating with living in an emergency shelter, staying in hospital beds, or jail. The waitlists associated with accessing much needed services, like specialized housing services designed with individuals suffering from mental health illness, translates into a gap in our social safety net and can become a pathway into homelessness. Accordingly, investments in affordable and supportive housing can be understood as part of a preventative strategy against homelessness.
The link between mental health and homelessness is not one-directional; homelessness on its own can cause mental health issues. Consider, for a young adult, the impact on mental health of increased exposure to harmful drugs, difficulty accessing appropriate healthcare, and increased likelihood of witnessing and being a victim of violence. Additionally, facing increased barriers to employment and education supports also takes its toll on mental wellbeing. Transitioning from housing to living on the streets is an enormously stressful and difficult predicament, doubly so for individuals suffering from mental illness. In circumstances where individuals are experiencing mental health issues, homelessness further amplifies existing conditions.
People living with a severe mental illness are overrepresented among Canada’s homeless population. This partly due to the absence of community services and poor discharge planning. Many programs and initiatives funded to address the needs of this subpopulation falter because they are not informed by the lived experiences of homeless individuals living with poor mental health.
Public knowledge and awareness about mental health has significantly improved in recent years. However, there remains a lot more work to be done in increasing access to specialized services for individuals suffering with mental illness. Advocating for, and supporting, specialized programs that demonstrate commitment for individuals living with mental illness is one way to contribute to bridging the gaps present in the social safety net.
Vineeth Sekharan is an undergraduate student in a psychology major at York University. His interest in the elimination of barriers to accessing vital services like housing and healthcare led him to work as a research student with The Homeless Hub. Vineeth’s other research interests include epidemiology, theories of power and persuasion, and literacy education. In his spare time, he likes to read a lot, write here and there, and then read some more.