Mental Health and Housing



In the run-up to the NSW state election, aspiring Premier Barry O’Farrell promised he’d appoint a Mental Health Commissioner, who would be “a champion for mental health within government so that sufferers get the best possible treatment”. The Commissioner will not start work until July 2012. But public housing tenants with mental illness in the Western suburbs of Sydney could well use such a champion right now.

A major investigation by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism has found deep-rooted and systemic neglect by Housing NSW of some of its most vulnerable tenants. The ACIJ has interviewed a wide range of people with mental illness living in public housing, the health professionals who care for them, and the social workers, church welfare agencies and tenants groups who advocate on their behalf.

A clear and consistent picture emerges from their first-hand accounts. People with mental illness regularly experience harassment, victimization and bullying by neighbours. Some have received death threats. Yet their pleas for help go unheeded by the authorities. While the O’Farrell government’s new Mental Health Taskforce conducts yet another review of services for the mentally ill, desperate people are falling through the cracks of a health and housing bureaucracy in chronic gridlock.

This is Crikey‘s five-part series on a major public health issue – out of sight and out of mind in Western Sydney.

Mental Health & Housing: not living, just existing
It’s common for mentally ill people in the western suburbs to be living in squalid conditions, according to a social worker and carer who worked in public housing for five years. Sathya Sivalohan reports.

Mental Health & Housing: living in hell at subsidised rates
There is already a bureaucratic structure in place that is supposed to help public housing tenants who are living with mental illness. Is it working? Paul Farrell, Veronika Pitrová, Michael Davis, and Simona Suciu examine one sad story.

Mental health & Housing: the public health crisis no one wants to know about
Mentally ill public housing tenants in Sydney’s west risk developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from living in dangerous environments, report Jacqueline Le, Michael Davis, Veronika Pitrová and Simona Suciu.

Mental health & Housing: refugees are hard hit by housing crisis
Many refugees’ post-settlement experiences had an even greater effect on their mental health, including the search for accommodation. Melanie Mahoney, Franziska Weigelt, Richard Barry, Jonas Lovschall-Wedel, Sophie Cousins, Annelien Maes, Anders Pedersen and Tess O’Brien explain.

Mental Health & Housing: vulnerable tenants ignored by department
Public housing tenants are taking matters into their own hands — and a recent ruling by the Consumer, Trader and Tenancy Tribunal could mean Housing NSW is legally liable if it ignores complaints about abusive, disruptive and dangerous tenants.