Housing crisis creating a new mental health timebomb as dream of owning a home increasingly out of reach, experts warn

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People are suicidal and stressed over fears for the future as accommodation insecurity is rampant

They are calling for urgent government action to finally resolve the long-running housing emergency – as the issue takes centre stage ahead of the local and European elections next month.

The Irish Independent has carried out an investigation into the mental and physical health ramifications for those struggling in insecure housing.

Psychotherapist Maxine Walsh, from Ardara Counselling in Tallaght, south Dublin, said: “People are coming to me with severe depression. Some have panic attacks. Sometimes they’ve disclosed to their families they have suicidal ideation.

“And the underlying source in up to 75pc of these cases is due to housing insecurity.”

Ms Walsh said a large number of her clients are professionals in their mid to late 20s and 30s.

“They’re well paid but they can’t afford a house. They’re living with their parents, trying to save every penny.

“They’re single, lonely, living in the childhood bedroom they’ve lived in since birth. They’re trying to save every penny for a mortgage and a house they’ll never be able to buy.

“There are people in their 20s and 30s who should be getting married and having kids. They’re not. They’re at their childhood home, not developing and neglecting their social lives.

“I have clients who are single parents living in hotels. And the kids they’re raising are going out into the world, having lived in that horrible situation.

“I fear how that will impact kids in 10 to 15 years when they’re grown up. Housing instability is traumatic for children.”

Meanwhile, Dr Clíona Ní Cheallaigh, clinical lead for the Inclusion Health Service at St James’s Hospital in Dublin, is at the centre of pioneering work to help homeless people with healthcare.

Referring to housing inequality, Dr Ní Cheallaigh said: “There’s a lot of data to suggest not having a stable life can lead to health problems.”

The doctor believes there is a link between the stress of not having stable housing and further health impacts.

“A lot of the things that keep people healthy are being part of a community and a social network,” Dr Ní Cheallaigh said.

“And that’s all dependent on building a network where you live. Having to move around frequently increases loneliness and loneliness is as bad as smoking for people’s health.

“Homeless people have much higher rates of illness and much shorter life expectancy than those who are housed.”

She said the mental health crisis is “huge” in Ireland right now.

“If the Government solved this housing crisis, it would also solve a massive social and health crisis. It would also solve problems with criminality and addiction,” she said.

Threshold CEO John-Mark McCafferty said the housing charity’s advisers are regularly “assisting people with varying levels of distress”.

Mr McCafferty said Threshold staff “signpost people to psychological supports” when necessary.

“Renters and their families – regardless of income and background – are exposed to the risk of losing their rented home, with the worry and stress which that entails,” he said.

Rebecca Heslin, clinical psychologist at youth mental health not-for-profit Jigsaw, said housing inequality is a “massive social injustice that has wide ranging mental health impacts”.

“We see people up to 25 years of age who are living at home in a box room, long past what is developmentally appropriate,” she said.

“There are multiple generations living in one house. Children and young people might have no privacy and that is a complete violation of the rights of a child.

“It’s absolutely traumatising for children and young people. We have a duty of care to provide a safe space for children and Ireland is failing.”

Housing campaigner Rory Hearne, who is the Social Democrats candidate for the Midlands North-West constituency in the European Parliament elections, said tenants who had been evicted from private rentals sometimes felt traumatised by going back into another private rental.

He added: “Tenants are being forced to leave their home and the process of forced eviction is extremely traumatic.”

Mr Hearne – also associate professor in social policy at Maynooth University – said the Government could “solve” forced evictions “overnight” by “introducing no-fault eviction legislation that exists in most European countries”.

“In Germany there are lifetime leases, where people can’t be evicted if the landlord decides to sell the property. Why haven’t they done this in Ireland?” he asked.