Finances and housing

Housing and finances are important issues that have a direct impact on the wellbeing of people with severe mental health problems. The experience of symptoms, side-effects from certain medications and discrimination can create problems for ongoing employment (see also Experiences of Work, and Negotiating daily life). Unstable or lack of employment can have a negative impact on people’s financial position which can in turn affect their housing situation, as well as their participation in social activities. Securing and maintaining stable housing is a key aspect of personal recovery and depends on financial certainty.

The people we spoke to talked about the importance of housing and finances in relation to their experiences of severe mental health problems. For some, finding and maintaining accommodation in which they felt comfortable was a crucial aspect of their personal recovery and remaining well. People also spoke about how their experience of mental health problems had affected their financial situation. They mentioned the challenges of managing their daily living on a reduced income, relying on government support or help from family, and the importance of maintaining social connections.

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Housing and wellbeing
Homelessness and unstable housing
Finding housing
Finances


Living with other people had been difficult for David until he moved in with a friend. He said they have a mutually supportive relationship.

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Alice talked about the impact of being diagnosed with ‘reactive psychosis’ on her finances and ‘lifestyle’.

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Housing and wellbeing

Finding and maintaining secure housing was important for people’s sense of wellbeing. People’s accommodation arrangements varied and included both public housing and private rental accommodation, supported accommodation, or their own homes. Many people lived alone or with a pet, while some lived with friends, housemates, or family members.

For Chris, having a stable home was one of the key ‘foundations’ of his personal recovery along with taking medication and other forms of support. He said having these things in place enabled him to ‘develop and go to places’ he never thought possible. Housing provided a sense of stability in people’s lives and was a base that enabled them to feel connected to their local community.

Niall said accepting an offer of moving into a public housing unit was ‘not a big decision’. He has stayed there longer than planned, because the atmosphere makes him ‘feel good’.

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Some people spoke about the challenges of shared living arrangements, but generally appreciated the support that came with living with others. Brian said that he appreciated the ‘company’ when he lived with someone he had met in a mental health in-patient unit for several years. Some people spoke about the positive effect that their living arrangements had on their mental wellbeing.

Gurvinder did not enjoy ‘living in a box’ with lots of people around. With the help of his mother, he eventually found a home that gave him a ‘nice calming feeling’.

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Homelessness and unstable housing

Housing instability was a common experience among the people we talked to, with several describing periods of homelessness, extended hospital stays, or, in two cases, time in prison. Several people spoke about the interrelationship between their housing situation and their mental health. Some felt that unstable housing had a negative impact on their mental health, including Charlie who said of her experience of homelessness: ‘If you’re wandering the streets there’s no way you can have a routine of medication. There’s no routine on the street, not really’.

Cindy linked her diagnosis of depression and hospitalisation to her ‘awful’ experience of ‘couch surfing’ with her daughter.

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Others described how social difficulties arising as a consequence of mental health problems and discrimination made maintaining employment and secure housing more difficult. A few participants described how they were asked to leave the place where they had been living.

Michelle eventually moved into a caravan park because she had ‘nowhere to live’. She described how she was evicted after she ‘cracked one day’.

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Finding housing

Many people spoke about the difficulty in finding housing. A few people described how they appreciated the support of family members or friends in finding accommodation.

Paddy appreciated the financial sacrifice his parents made when they bought a unit for both himself and his brother to live in.

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Some felt that they received little help finding new accommodation during vulnerable times such as leaving hospital or prison. Charlie described being discharged from prison by the police: ‘It was late at night. [They] dropped me at the beach on my own, pretty unwell, no sleep, no food, no cigarettes or anything. It could have been handled better’.

Bernadette described how her father made the decision to end her lease when she was in hospital. She received little support in finding a place to live that could accommodate her children when she was released.

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Finances

For most people, experiencing severe mental health problems had a negative effect on their financial circumstances. This was usually the result of unstable employment which reduced the amount of income they earned. Several people spoke about relying on social security payments such as the Disability Support Pension, sickness allowances or parenting payments, or on financial support from family members.

A lack of money also affected people’s sense of independence or ability to participate in social activities. For some people, relying on government or family members for money reduced their feelings of autonomy. For others, external management was helpful. Gurvinder said he ‘always had problems paying rent and whatever’ and so had decided to continue having his money managed by a State Trustee. Bernadette said that her parenting payment was cut off after a hospital worker notified Centrelink that she was in an in-patient unit. This was difficult to re-establish later when she was ‘still really sedated’.

Vanessa was ‘frustrated’ when Centrelink cut her payments after doing ‘a couple of jobs’. She also worried about her savings, as despite seeking financial advice, she said she still ‘didn’t understand’ superannuation.

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Managing financially on a low income was difficult for many people. Some people talked about needing to be ‘thrifty’, while others said saving money was hard, or led to social isolation. Others did manage their money well and appreciated the back-up support and advice they received from their family.

Vanessa described the social isolation that she experienced because of the need to save money to pay for housing repairs.

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Niall found the suggestion to save a portion of his disability pension useful. He also appreciated the financial support his father gave where necessary.

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