Cold homes and mental health
It’s Mental Health Awareness Week, so we sat down to reflect on all the people we meet who live with mental health issues, and how these issues come about.
Your home should be the place you feel safe. It’s usually where you spend the most time and it’s your hideaway. So what happens when it’s cold, damp, or draughty? What if it’s costing you more than you can afford to heat, and it becomes an albatross? It can sometimes make you feel blue if your home is just a bit shabby – let alone when it’s physically hazardous.
Many people we talk to who are experiencing debt problems note stress and anxiety, and those residing in a cold, damp home regularly experience depression and low moods.
Cold home worry
In 2018, when the charity Mind set about their new housing campaign, they found that four in five people with mental health problems said a ‘housing situation has made their mental health worse or caused a mental health problem.’ Included in this was the damp and cold condition of the property.
In Mind’s review, one person said:
“My experience of living in a very damp flat made me very stressed. I had depression and I lost most of my belongings to green and white mould. The bed covers were wet so I had to buy an electric blanket to dry the bed before we got in. It was a miracle that the electric blanket and the damp did not cause the flat to catch fire. I had to bathe my baby in the living room until I could afford a radiator in the bathroom. My daughter was so, so cold in the bathroom so there was no way I was risking her health. We then moved to a new house and life started getting better. Being in surroundings that are manageable makes me better able to deal with my depression.”
Alleviating the stress of a cold home
At Keep Herefordshire Warm we are working to tackle cold homes and provide support with energy bills. We do this using a team of trained energy advisors who are superb at finding people the support they need. It can be difficult to seek help or even to talk to people when you are experiencing issues with your mental health, which is why our advisors seek to understand those struggling by building trust and support over the phone throughout the whole process. One resident suffering with PTSD experienced the added pressure of accumulating energy debt. She said at first that she was “apprehensive [about receiving help], but was made very easy and comfortable by Shelley, who solved the issues I was having.”
Energy advisor Shelley arranged, on behalf of the resident, a 12-month payment plan, paying £9.43 towards the debt. The company agreed to write off the remaining £138.54. This will allow the client to switch to a cheaper tariff at the end of the payment plan, leaving her in a better position in the long run. Shelley also helped the householder apply for the Warm Homes Discount, saving her £140 and added to the Priority Services Register. The client also felt this put her “back in control,” which we all know goes a long way to help your health and wellbeing.
A review of studies exploring mental health and wellbeing revealed a consensus that “Living in cold and damp housing contributes to a variety of different mental health stressors, including persistent worry about debt and affordability, thermal discomfort, and worry about the consequences of cold and damp for health.” Not only that but “improvements to energy efficiency are often associated with significant improvements in mental well-being.” Great news for anybody getting in touch with Keep Herefordshire Warm, then!
How to help
So if someone you know has a cold home, what can you do to help?
- Checking in with someone is the first step! Give them a ring, video call, or knock on the door. Ask them how they are feeling and if anything is bothering them. Energy debt can cause massive stress, and while talking about finance is never easy, this year we are all a bit better at discussing our personal challenges at home. In the Spring, the cold might not seem such an issue; but in shady, poorly insulated, or damp homes it can still be a struggle to stay warm.
- You can call Keep Herefordshire Warm on 0800 677 1432 to arrange a free home visit to assess the energy efficiency of your friend or family member’s property. Our team can also assess whether the person is eligible for funding to cover the cost of insulation or central heating systems.
- Energy advisors can arrange a call to talk through any concerns or queries you might have, perhaps give your friend the email address firstname.lastname@example.org and encourage them to get in touch on their own terms.
- If you’re a bit handy yourself, you can help them with tasks like checking and bleeding radiators, setting thermostats and maybe blocking a draft – as appropriate.
- Give them one of our leaflets, or a link to one of our blog posts, like ‘Five energy saving tips for the unexpectedly housebound’ or ‘What can my energy company do to help me during the coronavirus pandemic?’ for help.
- Get them out in the sunshine (socially distanced of course) on a sunny day! That is always good for mental health!