How Does Housing Affect Mental Health?

Aug 20, 2020

Where we live affects how we feel. While mental illness can happen to anyone, having a space to call your own can help you manage your mental illness, maintain stability, and prioritize wellness.

Homelessness Negatively Impacts Mental Health

Studies show that people experiencing homelessness report higher levels of distress and serious mental illness than the general population. It can make it difficult to adequately manage chronic physical health conditions, heal from trauma, and more. Being unable to manage your health and wellness can lead to increasing levels of distress, depression, and anxiety. 

Guild’s Delancey Services staff, who help individuals who are homeless find and keep housing, see this first-hand.  “Being homeless affects every aspect of your being,” says Delancey Services Program Manager Katherine Johnson. When you’re homeless, you’re in a situation that lacks safety and security. This causes stress and makes stabilizing and managing mental health symptoms difficult. 

Experiencing homelessness means experiencing uncertainty, and sometimes trauma

Barriers to Mental Healthcare While Homeless

It’s estimated that 20% of individuals experiencing homelessness have a serious mental illness. When you are homeless and have a mental illness, it can be hard to access the mental health services you need.

Mental health care is often expensive. Lack of insurance or ability to pay for services can inhibit people from getting care. 

Going to mental health appointments can be difficult when you’re experiencing homelessness. It can be hard to keep track of days and time. You may struggle to find transportation. Individuals experiencing homelessness may not be able to access telehealth services during the current COVID-19 pandemic due to a lack of available technology.

Psychiatric medications can make a difference in managing mental illness, but individuals experiencing homelessness may not feel comfortable with them. Sometimes individuals experiencing homelessness who are prescribed medications refrain from taking them if they are concerned about side effects that hinder their ability to be on alert. Being homeless often means you have to be aware at all times to watch for threats.

Often, basic needs like food, water, and shelter come before seeking psychiatric care. When providers treat individuals experiencing homelessness who have mental health conditions without treating the homelessness itself, it can be difficult to make a big, if any, difference in an individual’s wellness.  

Having a Place to Live Makes a Difference

Getting housing means building the foundation for better stability. You are able to address your mental health concerns with fewer distractions and barriers. When you have a place to live, you can start building up living skills, coping skills, and ways of thriving.

Safety and stability is an important part of wellness. When your living conditions are predictable and secure, you don’t have to worry about threats. Having a safe place to live means you don’t have to be constantly watching out.

Having a place to live helps you manage chronic medical conditions. For example, individuals experiencing homelessness who are diabetic need to take insulin, and need to keep their insulin refrigerated. When individuals experiencing homelessness aren’t able to meet their needs, they can end up in the hospital, or develop additional health conditions. Having a place to live gives you a place to store your medications.

When you have a place to live, you are more easily able to take care of yourself. You can stay clean, feel good about your appearance, and feel more confident in your ability to interact with others.

“Having a place to call yours creates the possibility for hope,” says Katherine. “You don’t have to just live for today, you can live for tomorrow, too.” 

Guild Breaks the Cycle of Homelessness

At Guild, we know that co-occurring problems can lead to additional barriers to living a safe, fulfilling, and healthy life. That’s why we use a housing-first approach, which prioritizes finding individuals housing as the first step to wellness. Our staff inspires clients experiencing homelessness to regain and hold onto their hope and helps them plant the seeds for a new future.

Help is out there. We believe that everyone deserves housing and mental healthcare. Need assistance? Call our Community Access line at (651) 925-8490 and ask to speak with someone about Delancey Street Services.

Want to support the work that Guild does in the community? Donate here.


Homelessness, Psychiatric Disorder, and Mortality, Psychiatric Times. 

Homelessness in Minnesota, Wilder Research. 

Health, National Alliance to End Homelessness.