A story about the importance of Supported Housing for sufferers of mental illness, by Priscilla Okoye – one of our wonderful volunteers.

diagram mental illness and supported housing

Sometimes you never get to know the real meaning of a word until somehow life puts it right before your eyes.   That’s how I never actually knew the real meaning of the words supported housing (SH) until I became a part of an organisation to which those words are commonplace.

I wondered what supported housing (SH) meant apart from the easy meaning derivable from the root words. I wanted to know who it was designed for, and if it was the same thing as supportive housing.   Pardon my confusion, both grey, and academic researches confirm the lack of clarity in the meaning of both terms.   While some use both terms interchangeably, others refer to both as different approaches to the provision of housing support.   But then before I went further in trying to understand the meaning and difference between the two, I tried to imagine what it means to care for a severely mentally ill adult. That brought to my mind the story of Eliza, a teenage girl who was about to leave for college and still lived with her widowed elderly grandmother; whose only source of income was farming. 

Eliza, without displaying any (prior) symptoms or signs suddenly had a psychotic episode. Just like that.   I tried to imagine myself as her grandmother, an old woman, who can barely take care of herself.   Where do I start? How do I go about taking care of Eliza?   I can barely take care of myself as it is.   How do I do that with my dulled mind, blurred vision, arthritis-ridden fingers, and joints?   How?   I can barely stand on my legs without the aid of a cane. How does a woman like that take care of her once bright and focused; now psychotic granddaughter?   These all brought me to thinking about what it, in reality, means to take care of another adult, psychosis aside, when I can barely take care of myself. I am in my thirties, I’ve got three under 5-year-olds, and I’ve got a husband.   I am sure you can imagine how crazy my life is.   I thought it was bad until remote learning for children became required due to the recent lockdown and of course, COVID-19.   I now double as a mother (already overwhelmed with household chores and child care) and a teaching assistant. I barely remember to comb my hair, as my day starts even before the previous day ends. But for the knitted hat I now wear all day, even the postman may soon begin to think a madwoman lives in flat 8. 

Raphailia Michael explains self-care as the things we intentionally do to take care of our own mental, emotional, and physical health.   How closely are these related to mental illness? How well can a friend or family member take care of a severely mentally ill adult when he or she possibly, just like me, maybe ranking low in self-care—taking care of one’s mental, emotional, and physical health? 

I skimmed through Cassie Johnston’s long personal list of self-care ideas, wonder why I skimmed through?   No time, plus a sneaking sense of guilt for failing myself.   Evidently, I need to care for myself.   Given that I have failed in self-care amidst the job of taking care of my sane and (thankfully) healthy family, on the issue of self-care, I will rank low. 

The truth is that it requires a lot to be able to care for another human being let alone care for someone who is severely mentally ill.   Aside from professional training, qualifications, and experience (if you have those), you must, first of all, be mentally, emotionally, and physically okay.   This means you must have a daily or reasonably frequent routine of taking care of yourself in other to have the mental space, well-being, and capability to take on the duty of taking care of another person.   That was the point where I began to understand the undeniable importance of supported housing for the severely mentally ill, and for their family and friends. 

To capture some of the challenges of taking care of a severely mentally ill adult, again I thought about Eliza and her elderly grandmother, how overwhelming that must be for the old woman.   I know first-hand how hellish it was for my mum to take care of her 95year old mother who had dementia and lived with her.   It was the toughest challenge my mother had to go through. Yet she was convinced it was good for my grandmother to live with her.   Although she was happy to do it, seeing it as a duty she owed her mother as her daughter, the impact on her health and mental well-being as the primary carer, is a story for some other time.

For Eliza’s aged grandmother, the story isn’t very different.   Since being diagnosed with psychosis, Eliza has had two children.   At least, a minimum of 30 studies exist on the current violence committed against people with severe mental disorders, mainly patients suffering from schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders including bipolar and depressive disorder. 11 of these studies reported on the pervasiveness of different forms of sexual violence against women with such level and severity of mental illness.   Eliza was a victim of such violence and abuse.   Two pregnancies and two children confirm she was sexually abused (or raped), at least twice. She is at the mercy of the people around her.   She, just like other severely mentally ill patients can easily be subdued by imbruted humans.   She, just like people with the same condition is bereft of the voice, cognitive, and communicative adequacies to defend or speak for themselves.   We, at Hammersley Homes, want to be their safe place.

Research has confirmed the provision of adequate housing as part of primary prevention strategy for various types of violence and abuse severely mentally ill individuals go through. Beyond that, supported housing means the provision of accommodation—a physical building including support and services for this vulnerable sector.   This means that this form of housing exceeds the provision of a physical building to the provision of a better quality of life, independence, safety, security, comfort, and community to residents. For families and friends, it provides some measure of peace of mind, less mental and physical stress culminating in improved health and well-being knowing the mental and physical strain the demands and challenges of taking care of a sick friend or family member can cause.Having personally gone through the bewildering challenge and experience of having a psychotic relative, our Founding Trustee decided to set up Hammersley Homes, to provide supported housing, a home for life for severely mentally ill adults.   Because we know caring for a seriously mentally ill adult is a daunting task, knowing all that it requires and determined to deliver, we are here to ease the burden that families and friends of mentally ill adults go through.


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