Part-One: A Journey of Homelessness and Mental Health
January 21 2020
To advise the Royal Commission in Victoria’s Mental Health System we talked to our clients to learn about how they’ve navigated the mental health and homelessness systems. Their overall experiences are presented in the following article in their own words and reflect the devastating impact of homelessness, especially the extent to which it has destabilised and exacerbated their mental health.
Without exception, these clients emphasised the significance of safe and long-term housing to mental health stability and recovery.
Negative experiences with the mental health services system
For many people experiencing homelessness it can be traumatising and distressing, it leaves people feeling hopeless, stressed and depressed – people feel they are not listened to, they are inappropriately diagnosed, or given incorrect medications.
This is what people with lived experience of homelessness and mental ill-health had to say about interaction with the mental health service systems.
“I’ll go into the system and then come out and just go ‘stuff it’, it’s all just too hard, no-one’s listening to me…More people need to listen…I feel [depressed] everyday…the CATT [Crisis Assessment and Treatment] team just wanted to change my medications…but all I asked you for was something to help me sleep…[but] they said, “no, we’ll change your whole anti-depressant”…so I just started buying over the counter sleeping pills just so I could sleep when I wanted to’. (‘Fran’)
Limited access to services
Need to diagnose people properly first off, and help people more. I know even if you want to see a good psychologist…you can only get so many limited funded sessions’. (‘Kym’)
Trust and safety are critically important
It’s hard to open up to people, or trust anybody in this world…it all depends on who you get as a counsellor as well. I had this really good one and then she had to go…to hospital…so now I have to start [telling] my whole life story again’. (‘Kym’)
Inappropriate discharge from hospital
‘[Supportive accommodation] it’s a saving grace. Where do you go after eight weeks of torture, like my whole body was shaking, all morning, I can’t believe I was discharged. And, because I was so stressed…you need to be on your own, you need to be in a place where you can feel safe and that everything is going to be okay…to go into other people’s houses…is really so bad for you, right after a major hospitalisation’. (‘Allison’)
For people experiencing homelessness the impact of this living without a home and experiencing a mental illness is incredibly difficult and distressing. Housing is fundamental to people recovering and staying in safe, secure accommodation is vital to recovery from a mental health episode.
Discover more about the impact of homelessness on a person’s mental health journey in the second part of this series.