The coming and going of another #BellLetsTalk day had us thinking that it’s time we open up a conversation about mental health and housing. Mental illness, whether directly or indirectly, affects us all. A profound number of Canadians are suffering due to social circumstances beyond their control, and yet there is still a tendency to blame or shame these individuals for the difficulties they face. Perhaps we as a society would be more compassionate if we knew that, every year, one in five Canadians experience some form of mental illness.1 This stat on it’s own is already shocking enough. When diving into the low-income sector in Canada, those numbers rise to alarming heights.
The Social Determinants of Health
There are several factors outside of biology that influence mental and physical health, with two of the most important factors being access to secure housing and adequate income.2
Depression, anxiety, and mood disorders are strongly attributed to the stress that accompanies financial difficulties. Knowing this, it is not surprising to learn that 25-50% of Canada’s homeless population suffer from a mental illness.3 Youth homeless are at even higher risk with over 50% of youth experiencing homelessness in 2014 reporting a mental illness of some kind.3
Depression is one of the most common illnesses among individuals who are barely making ends meet. The crushing pressure of attempting to tend to a mental illness while being forced to work to put food on the table, pay the rent or simply survive is unfathomably difficult to balance. For seniors, youth, families, or people with a physical disability or chronic illness this pressure is magnified. Safe housing is arguably the most important resource for these individuals to recover, and to avoid a dangerous environment that triggers mental illnesses in the first place. Housing is a key factor in our health that so many of us take for granted yet couldn’t imagine living without. Heartbreakingly, a lack of a safe and affordable place to call home is a reality for so many Calgarians.
Affordable Housing Development in Calgary
Calgary, a beautiful city known for being a bustling, opportunistic economic center, is hardly affordable. One study determined that Calgary is the second-least affordable real estate market in the province, second only to Chestermere as the most expensive4. Calgary’s homeless population is on the decline, but there is a tendency to overlook the countless individuals who are just barely teetering on the edge. The demand for affordable housing has increased steadily over the past decade, and COVID-19 has further stoked this fire. Calgarian organizations are working hard to bridge this gap- with several affordable housing projects waiting for approval and several more already in development5, including Forward Housing’s own building which will begin to fill units in March.
At Forward Housing, we are reminded of the connection between health and housing each and every day. Many of our tenants have stories of overcoming great adversities including poverty, illness, domestic violence and refugeeism.
One of our tenants, Blaine, recently spoke to us about his own struggles with depression and the role of affordable housing has played in providing the stability he needed to “grow as an individual”. You can read his story here: https://forwardhousing.ca/client-stories/free-to-follow-my-heart/. The effect safe housing has had on Blaine’s mental health is undeniable.
Educating the public in recognizing mental illness as a huge barrier in overcoming impoverishment is the first step to facilitating awareness and funding for the social programs that support Calgary’s low-income population.
Stay tuned for our next post which will comprehensively look at all the benefits that come into play when dissecting affordable housing.
1- Canadian Mental Health Association. “Fast Facts about Mental Illness”. 2021. https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness
2- MacKay, Katherine and John Wellner. “Housing and health: OMA calls for urgent government action, housing-supportive policies to improve health outcomes of vulnerable populations.” Ontario Medical Review. July/August 2013. https://content.oma.org//wp-content/uploads/housing_health_aug2013.pdf\
3- Aleman, Ambar. “Mental Health and Homelessness in Canada”. Homeless Hub, May 4, 2016. https://www.homelesshub.ca/blog/mental-health-and-homelessness-canada#:~:text=The%20Mental%20Health%20Commission%20of,a%20mental%20illness(es).
4- Schlesinger, Joel. “Costly Calgary? Housing affordability ranks low compared to rest of Alberta”. Calgary Herald, December 10, 2020. https://calgaryherald.com/life/homes/new-homes/costly-calgary-housing-affordability-ranks-low-compared-to-rest-of-alberta
5-The City of Calgary. “Current City affordable housing developments”. 2021. https://www.calgary.ca/cs/olsh/affordable-housing/current-housing-developments.html