Thursday 22 August 2019

Fiona Cassim: 'Biggest cost of housing crisis will be on our mental health'

'It’s a sense of defeat that is felt acutely by my generation. We think we have failed somehow.' Stock photo
'It’s a sense of defeat that is felt acutely by my generation. We think we have failed somehow.' Stock photo

Fiona Cassim

IN the last few years, a spotlight has been placed on issues surrounding mental health, as more people are beginning to speak out about the pressures of life.

There are many reasons for feeling mentally under the weather - financial problems, suffering in relationships, and difficulties in work being some of the key issues. Recently, a suicide prevention call centre spoke out about how the housing crisis is having a deeply negative impact on mental health. People are losing their homes and suffering panic attacks and anxiety because of rising rents and mortgage arrears.

If moving house is commonly thought to be one of the most stressful changes in a person's life, what is the mental result of having nowhere to move to? Rental properties are becoming unaffordable for those on an average wage and even home ownership is not 100pc safe as people struggle to keep up with rising mortgage rates.

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Between rent increases, property sales and bad luck, I have had a rather colourful life, moving 26 times in my 38 years. I am now married nine months and have yet to know my forever home. The impact of this, of a lifetime spent loading boxes and travelling light, has only really surfaced in recent years.

As children, we learn not to question these things; mum or dad said it would be an adventure, I'd have a new bedroom, guess what, there's a back garden in this place. But I think you lose a little part of yourself every time you have to leave a place you called home, for however long it might have been. You get used to your bed and the familiar grooves in the tiles in the bathroom, and sometimes you forget none of it is yours, it's just a loan.

You build up a sort of resilience to the loss but it takes its toll eventually. Most little girls dream of growing up, finding Prince Charming and falling in love. Me, I just wanted the castle, to have my own home and never have to pack another box again. As a result of this nomadic life I have led, I find it hard to settle anywhere, I have learned not to get too attached to one place, but there are some places, like my current rental apartment with my husband, I have become too attached to, and the heartbreak is a constant daily ache.

Maybe it is because it is our first home together, like I have shed the skin of childhood and put on my grown-up coat, but I feel the familiar knot in my stomach, the mild panic and exhausting anxiety as we pack away a half-built life.

We are the lucky few who actually managed to find somewhere in this limited market to move to, but I often wonder, late at night when the worry fairies come out to play, when will it end?

There are statistics every day relating to the housing crisis, numbers and percentages and costs, but what are the hidden costs of this housing crisis, the price you pay with your health? As part of 'generation rent', I was born into a society hell-bent on home ownership, and yet the majority of us are still renting. We grew up assuming it was a kind of generational right to one day have our very own house, garden, set of twins and Golden Labrador. Rather than chasing the dream, we assumed it would be handed over like an inheritance cheque. Now we realise we can dream on.

What we have found is that because of increased rents and huge deposits, the idea of any disposable income to save for a deposit is impossible. Other than a lottery windfall or a generous relative coming up with €20,000 or more, it would take years, most likely getting the keys on your retirement day.

We are stuck in a loop, working, paying for the necessities and left counting small change at the end of the week. It is a sense of defeat that I think is felt acutely by my generation. We think we've failed somehow. This sense of failure can wreak havoc on mental stability as it leads to stress, depression, frustration and overwhelming loss as you say goodbye to yet another front door.

We have reached a point in time where nothing is certain and the real cost of this housing crisis has yet to be seen.

Irish Independent

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