The Victorian Government is establishing a Royal Commission into Mental Health.
The Royal Commission will provide recommendations on how to best support Victorians with mental illness.
The Terms of Reference are currently being developed through a consultation process, and when finalised they’ll outline the parameters of the Royal Commission’s task.
CHP has some concerns that the draft Terms of Reference don’t mention housing and homelessness. We hope this oversight will be remedied through this initial consultation process.5 reasons why Victoria's Mental Health Royal Commission must examine the role of housing and homelessness Click To Tweet
Here are five reasons that housing and homelessness are inextricably linked with mental health, and why the Mental Health Royal Commission must include these issues in its examination.
1) Homelessness agencies are swamped with clients who report that mental health issues are contributing to their homelessness, or putting them at risk of homelessness.
Last year 17,772 Victorians presented at homelessness services citing mental health as one of the reasons they need help (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2017-18). Such high demand on agencies, combined with limited resources mean that about 1-in-4 clients are turned away from assistance by homelessness services.
2) People who are experiencing homelessness are heavy users of the health system because mental health conditions get worse without a safe place to live.
This US study found what we know to be true in Australia – there’s been a rise in acute hospital use among homeless individuals for mental illness and substance use disorders.
3) Due to the chronic shortage of affordable accommodation in Victoria, over 500 people each year are discharged from acute mental health care into rooming houses, motels and other homeless situations.
Any gains made in hospital quickly unravel in these living situations, as this article in The Age details: More go straight from psychiatric hospital into homelessness.
4) Many people’s first episode of mental illness develops as a consequence of the stress and dislocation of homelessness.
In this SBS article ‘What it’s like living with a mental illness when you’re homeless’, one woman explains, “”My life was constantly being threatened: it felt like I was always either about to be dead or lucky to be alive. This lifestyle triggered a domino effect of severe mental illness in me which meant I lost all self-esteem and self-identity.”
5) People who are experiencing acute mental health episodes are more at risk of losing their housing, and falling into homelessness.
For example, during a manic episode, someone with biopolar disorder may not pay the rent, or may display behaviour that leads to disputes with neighbours, or cause damage to a rental property that leads them to be evicted. We need greater understanding of these risks, and the mental health system needs greater capacity to support people ‘in community’ to be able to recover from episodes and resolve any issues that have arisen.
Unless the Royal Commission considers the deep connection between mental illness and homelessness, we have little hope that they will recommend the necessary housing and support options needed to break the insidious relationship.
Please have your say by participating in the consultation process for the Terms of Reference.
The terms of reference will detail the Royal Commission’s task, and it is critical that they include all the relevant issues.