Just a song

I’m not trying to fake it and I ain’t the one to blame.
No there’s no one home in my house if pain.
I didn’t write these pages and my scripts been rearranged.
No there’s no one home in my house of pain.

Faster Pussycat, 1990.

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Mental health and homelessness

20% of all Canadians will suffer at one time or another with mental health issues. These issues include depression, anxiety, PTSD, bipolar, schizophrenia and obsessive, compulsive and addictive behaviours.

For homeless people that figure is believed to be around 35%, and its estimated 75% of homeless women are affected by mental health issues.

The vast majority of women I’ve met in the shelter since being homeless have had some sort of mental health issues. Many of the women are taking medication to cope. In the shelter all medications are locked away, and must be signed out by a member of staff and the resident. We aren’t even allowed to have Tylenol or Advil on our person, a woman can be dismissed from the shelter if they are found with medications that they haven’t turned in.

At the shelter we have access to medical help. An organization calls in at least once a week to take care of any medical needs we have. Since becoming homeless I’ve had a series of health problems, from a broken arm, to pneumonia, to gynecologic problems which they have helped me with. The nurses also check up on the resident’s mental health.

I don’t have an MSI card yet and I have to pay for prescription medications. This presents me with issues at times as I don’t have access to money to pay for them. I also get billed from the hospital if I attend emergency. I’ve gone from using mood stabilizers and lorazepam to just using anti-depressants as I can’t afford to pay for all my medications. I do get help from charitable organizations sometimes to help pay for my medications, but it’s hard to ask for help. It takes a lot from your own self worth, and when you are struggling with self doubt and depression that just makes you feel worse.

At the shelter I’ve seen all sorts of people who are trying to live with mental health issues. Many stem from childhood abuse and neglect, some are illnesses such as personality disorders, many women have suicidal ideation, and others live with addiction. Some women stop caring about issues such as personal hygiene, others eat compulsively or starve themselves, some women have paranoia and trust issues.

Being homeless is in itself a stressful situation. I have issues with noise sensitivity, being around a lot of people and an increased startle reaction. I’ve had panic attacks at the shelter and I’ve felt suicidal at times. Not being able to plan a life is hard. I don’t know when I’ll get out of my homeless situation. That impacts on the depression I live with, as sometimes I can’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve also been struggling with grief after losing my wife, and have been able to access grief counselling thanks to the staff at the shelter.

The staff try so hard to boost the confidence of the residents. Many women are left in disbelief that they are in the shelter when they first come. As someone who has been in this situation for over 7 months now I’ve seen a lot of women who walk into the shelter looking crushed and defeated, and walk out into a new apartment with the belief that they can succeed. Having staff on hand who will listen, who will try and give us a positive perspective or who simply make us believe that someone cares is priceless.

Living with mental health issues is hard enough when you have a stable environment to lean on. Dealing with these issues when you are homeless makes everything so much harder. A shelter is not conducive to promoting mental wellbeing due to so many people all struggling at once. However, now that I have the support from the staff and other organizatons I’ve found that I’m mentally stronger than the day I first accessed the shelter.