No place to call home

Good housing has become increasingly difficult to secure for people with serious mental health issues. Juan Figueroa/Dallas Morning News/Tribune News Service

Many people with minor mental health issues have no difficulty finding good residences and adjusting well to their accommodations.

Their condition does not deter them from creating stable home environments and living productively. Like millions of other Americans, they move forward through the ups and downs of everyday life.

But affordable housing for others with more serious mental health issues can be hard to secure. Since 2020, the novel coronavirus crisis has only worsened this situation.

“As soon as the pandemic started two years ago, our crisis numbers doubled and in many months tripled or quadrupled over the historical numbers. So certainly the last two years have been an incredibly difficult time for the mental wellness of our communities,” Edwin A. Sachs, a mobile crisis counselor with Reachout of St. Lawrence County based in Potsdam, said in a story published May 4 by the Watertown Daily Times. “People who might have been doing well outside the pandemic struggle with anxiety and depression, and we see some of that continuing. People who already had struggles with mental illness found themselves in a much worse state, and so I say for many months triple and quadruple the number of crisis calls came our way.”

Reachout of St. Lawrence County operates a hotline for people in the county who need to talk about their concerns, answering the phones after hours for many social service agencies. The group’s staff members and volunteers also connect callers with resources available at other organizations.

“We operate a mobile crisis team that sends trained counselors to meet and assess people at risk at locations all around the county,” according to information from Reachout of St. Lawrence County’s website. “We teach suicide intervention skills all around New York, and we’ve developed many programs to help make communities safer from suicide.”

Sachs said that many individuals with mental health issues are able to live in housing complexes designed for senior citizens. But those with severe problems experience hardships trying to adjust, he added.

Sachs raised a valid point about an ongoing problem in many communities: how to help people with mental health issues find the stability they require to successfully handle their problems. There has long been a connection between mental illness and homelessness, and government agencies and social service organizations in Northern New York have felt the strain of trying to address this crisis.

“With a lifetime and 1-year prevalence of homelessness in the U.S. population found to be 4.2% and 1.5%, respectively, and the total number of people who experience some form of homelessness over the course of a year is estimated to be 2.5 to 3.5 million individuals, homelessness is a serious problem. Mental illness, in addition to adverse childhood experiences and substance use, are risk factors for homelessness. Although estimates of the prevalence of mental illness vary, studies looking at mental illness in the homeless population have generally found a high prevalence of mental disorders. The most common disorders may be alcohol and drug dependence,” an article published May 29, 2020, by Psychiatric Times reported. “There is clearly a link between psychiatric disorders and homelessness; disentangling the nature of this relationship is complicated. Regardless of mental health status, people who are homeless generally have a history marked by poverty and social disadvantage, including considerable poverty in childhood and lower levels of education, and they are likely to belong to an ethnic minority. Mental illness had preceded homelessness in about two-thirds of the cases. Homelessness in turn has been associated with poorer mental health outcomes and may trigger or exacerbate certain types of disorders. For example, findings indicate that homelessness is related to higher levels of psychiatric distress and lower perceived levels of recovery from serious mental illness.”

The National Alliance on Mental Illness indicated on its website that many people with severe mental health issues live on Supplemental Security Income. But these funds average just 18% of median income, making finding a good home incredibly challenging.

The hurdles to reducing this problem are numerous.

The pandemic has exposed extreme flaws in many social structures, exacerbating the mental health crisis. Organizations dealing with individuals who need help have been overwhelmed as a result. Many in this field do not have the financial resources necessary to get on top of the issue.

This is a good time to have honest discussions about how to proceed.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. We should examine what we need to make progress on ensuring everyone has suitable living conditions. We hope north country policymakers will put their efforts into finding solutions.

This also is an appropriate moment to consider mental health wellness in general. Trustworthy services are available, so people should look into them to identify good resources.

The 24-hour hotline for Reachout of Reachout of St. Lawrence County is 315-265-2422. The number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255. Trained individuals are available at all times of the day to listen to people’s concerns, so please call and ask for help.

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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