In the run up to World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day coinciding on Thursday 10 October, Emmaus Colchester speaks out about the link between being homeless and mental health problems. 

Gintare Petrauskaite, Development and Progression Worker at Emmaus Colchester said: “You cannot talk about homelessness without talking about mental health. People who come through our doors have experienced enormous trauma. They have lost their home, earnings, and in some cases their support network. Being offered a bed and a warm meal is not enough to help them overcome that trauma.” 

Over the past year Emmaus Colchester has welcomed 37 new companions into its community. Out of these, at least 90% would have experienced depression and anxiety, with some needing more urgent support. 

“It’s not unusual for our companions to have ongoing suicidal thoughts, feelings or low self-worth or to be dealing with personality disorders.  

“They have been stuck in a cycle of long waiting lists and left to manage on their own, which usually leads to one or the other form of self-medicating,” she added.

While physical symptoms are dealt with promptly, it can often take much longer to receive medical support for mental health conditions. “If you were to go to a hospital with a broken leg, no one would turn you away and ask you to wait for 3-6 months. When it comes to our mental health and wellbeing, people are waiting much longer for support,” said Gintare 

According to the Office of National Statistics, there were an estimated 726 deaths of homeless people in England and Wales registered in 2018, representing an increase of over a fifth on the previous year, the largest rise since these figures began in 2013. Most of the deaths in 2018 were among men, accounting for 88% of the total. 

Emmaus Colchester believes it is important to talk about mental health and to fight the stigma and prejudice that those suffering from mental health issues experience. 

“At Emmaus, we try to take a holistic approach and listen to the experiences of our residents. As human beings, we are quick to offer solutions, however, sometimes the healing can begin with being heard and understood. 

“We work closely with professional counsellors who provide support to our residents. We also help them to access mental health and wellbeing courses to learn healthy coping mechanisms, build resilience and talk about their experience with other people in small group sessions. 

“Our approach is to be flexible with the support we offer. We hold regular one-to-one sessions which fit around each individuals needs.  

We also see the value of reaching outside of our own community by organising solidarity events. We encourage our residents to take part in the activities, helping to improve their self-esteem and self-worth.” 

Emmaus Colchester understands that helping those who have been formerly homeless, is far more complicated than just offering a roof over someone’s head.  

“It’s important to think about the wider picture and normalise how mental health affects us all. It is something that we all have. We need to be asking ourselves, how are we coping and can we ask for help when things get hard?” concludes Gintare. 

Emmaus Colchester is here to help those in the local community who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. If you, or someone you know needs help, find out more here. 

Or visit the Samaritans website, or call them for FREE on 116 123. 

Photo credit: Jonathon Rados, Unsplash

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