When we are in distress, when are in peril, we rely on our first responders. Firefighters. Paramedics. Police. And, the dispatchers who sort through often-harrowing calls and stay on the line until help arrives.
Last month, Sean Eckford wrote a story in the paper I write for about psychiatric care at Sechelt Hospital that ought to concern everyone in our community.
In a long-ago Peanuts comic, Charlie Brown asks Linus “But is it art?” The next panel shows Snoopy’s garishly redecorated doghouse, with its grinning owner dressed like a used-car salesman standing proudly beside it. Both human characters just sigh.
We all deal with stress. And it is worth thinking about how we feel it and what we can do about it.
Harsh experiences – all of us have had them. In childhood or after.
There are times when someone we love and care about becomes unwell – falls down and is harmed, and frequently embarrassed, by the behavioral symptoms and consequences of illness.
At long last, a replacement for the old cold weather shelter at St. Hilda’s Church has been found. As readers will know, the Old Upper Deck Guesthouse has morphed into a 20-bed homeless shelter. Also, there is talk of creating a shelter in Gibsons. Both of these are excellent developments.
It seems, then, like a good time to talk about the relationship between mental well-being and homelessness.
But first, an observation: On the Sunshine Coast, homelessness and demand for social services like the food bank are on the rise, and the “typical” client base of 10 – even five – years ago has changed. The death spiral of unaffordable rentals and meager employment means we now see folks lining up for services who arrive in minivans with kids in tow.
This means we must look at homelessness both as a consequence of mental illness and also as a cause of emotional and mental harm.
Folks living with a mental illness face huge housing challenges. The first significant barrier to finding safe and dependable accommodation is financial. If a person’s health challenges are cyclical – that is, if there are occasional bursts of crippling or severe symptoms – steady employment is a virtual impossibility.
But the greater barrier is bias – a chain of discrimination that begins in the job market and extends to housing. Given the choice, many employers would rather not hire a worker who lives with a mental illness, and many landlords would prefer tenant with no medical issues. The economic insecurity that results plays out as a housing issue. No money; no home.
(I should note that there are several enlightened employers here on the Coast who fully accept employees with mental, developmental, and physical challenges.)
For the “new” faces of homelessness, the folks that have been driven to social services by an unaffordable housing market and disappearing job opportunities, the effects of losing a home can be devastating and lead to a severe downturn in mental well being.
Imagine this: Last year you worked in an office, had a family who you were more than able to provide for, and a wide circle of friends. This, broadly, was your social network. Now, take away your job and your house; what do you see and feel?
First there is shame, brought on by the sudden and unfamiliar inability to provide for your family. And embarrassment, too, at the perceived loss of status so hard-won by a lifetime of education and work.
Next, there is isolation and loneliness. Schools, the workplace, and activities that a reliable income can buy create a web of social connections. When this shared support structure and the folks who populate it vanishes, so do the social interactions with friends and like-minded people that give life much of its meaning.
Solitude and social separation, according to recent study, are a health hazard and can lead to a surprising number of ailments. These may include dementia, autoimmune and cardiovascular disorders, and even cancer – all very expensive to treat.
The list of the causes and effects of homelessness is a long one, and the human and financial health care consequences unacceptable.
If we take a harm reduction approach to housing, if we realize that a commitment to the creation of affordable housing mitigates these human and financial costs, then we will have taken a meaningful step towards a solution to a problem that looks to get worse in the future.
At this time of hope, joy and awe, it is good to recognize spirituality and its role in mental health – everybody’s mental health, not just the few suffering from illness.
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience”
~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Some people define “spirituality” as going to church and believing in a God. Others may define spirituality along the lines of one of the Eastern non-theistic traditions such as Buddhism, Taoism or Hinduism. Others still, may define spirituality simply as becoming a better person, engaging in quiet reflection, meditating or going for a walk in the woods. However you define “spirituality”, the vast majority of people in the world either believe there is something more which goes beyond our immediate experience of the world, or at the very least are seeking some way to grow as a person and to become the “best”, and the happiest, they can become in their careers, hobbies or relationships. Studies have also shown that higher levels or spirituality or religiosity are strongly associated with a greater sense of meaning in life as well as higher levels of psychological and emotional well-being. In other words, people who hold a belief in some form of “higher power”, something “bigger” than who and what we are, whether defined as “God”, “Energy”, “Source”, “Collective Consciousness” or “Spirit”, tend to be happier, healthier and even live longer. Keep Reading