BD Giving is invested in making sure that our approach to participatory work is centred around people’s lived experiences. This includes recognising that as social sector professionals we also bring our own experiences to the table. In this Note, I decided to unpack some of my personal experiences and mental health struggles as I figure out my next move.
As my last Note explored, personal experiences helped me realise that “behind every statistic is a real person with their lived experiences, dreams and goals”, thus driving me to ensure that our communications keep those real people in mind.
People easily fall between the cracks of our social structures and while the descent can be sudden and immediate, the journey back up is painful and tedious.
CONTENT WARNING: Please be aware that this Note touches on difficult topics including depression and homelessness.
I have been homeless since September. Not the most visible and dramatic form of homelessness, i.e. rough sleeping, but the hidden form, one that is hidden from public view. An accumulation of factors led to this, including low mental health which had been triggered by my inability to secure adequate employment post-graduation and the end of a long-term relationship. I turned to the system. I applied to my local council and was put on the housing register. That was in May this year.
Everyone who lives in London understands just how hard it is to find appropriate housing even when you can afford it, especially one with dependable and accessible commuter routes. As a first-generation migrant, there is no going back home to lick my wounds and refresh after a break-up. As this happened just two months into stable employment, I had no savings and therefore could not afford to put down a deposit. My fashion design work also means I have various bits of equipment (sewing machines, fabrics etc), which makes moving into a room in a flatshare very challenging.
I looked into property guardianship, and sought to gather the required finances. However, despite being in full-time employment, I was rejected twice in four months for financial instability and “affordability” reasons and lost a bid recently because over forty people showed up and it was first-come-first-served. The reality is, were it not for the support of my friends I don’t know where I’d be sleeping right now.
The Line: Maintaining a Work-Life Balance
How do you show up at work when you’re going through personal turmoil? Where is the line? Can you be objective and productive when you can’t help yourself? How do you remain motivated then? How do you remain passionate about social change when you can’t make the necessary change in your own life?
I have found myself obsessing over these questions recently. I have been worried that my passion for systemic change that runs across everything I work in, communications and design, would die out and everything would become a ‘job’.
I don’t want a job, I want to help create sustained positive change across all our social structures.
The BD Giving team has been nothing but supportive through all of this, so much so that I don’t know how I’d have functioned anywhere else. An example of our safeguarding system is ‘reflective practice’. A process introduced by our Head of Learning & Participation, Cameron, to help the team unpack things we encounter in the course of performing our duties.
That is a ‘formal work’ example which does not take into account the interpersonal bonds and moral support that exists within the team.
The Bigger Picture
I recently attended the JRF’s Anxiety Nation conference on the link between economic insecurity and mental health distress in 2020s Britain and I felt seen. Finally, someone was making and having a conversation about the link between financial instability and mental health crises, which are often a result of systemic failures of our sociopolitical structures.
The JRF study highlighted a worrying increase in the markers of mental ill-health in society. It documents the way economic exposure leaves people far more vulnerable to a range of worrying mental health markers.
- On 12 different markers of mental health problems – from sleep loss to impeded social life – renters raised the flag for distress much more often than homeowners, and on 10 of the 12, more than twice as often.
- Those with minimal savings reliably reported far more distress than substantial savers, with twice as many admitting to taking less care at work, and three times as many reporting feeling worthless.
- All sorts of reforms, from those relating to the rental market to workplace changes, could bolster economic security – and bring serious benefits for mental health too.
A quick reference to Barking and Dagenham’s data on deprivation, homelessness and mental health (specifically, anxiety) shows that the borough’s experience backs the JRF findings. The borough is one of the most deprived in England and also reports high levels of anxiety (a score of 8 out of a possible 10) – I think the connection is unlikely to be coincidental given my own experience.
Why this Note?
Community-led decision-making means situating people with experiences at the heart of the things that affect them. Part of my job is to communicate to the various communities we engage with that we understand where they are and are genuine in our desire for sustained system change. In order to get people on board with our work, they need to know that we often share their experiences, or are deeply engaged with those who do have experience and are not wanting to speak for or over them.
When I went flat viewing this week, I got talking to one of the people who was showing us around and they mentioned that they would be becoming homeless at the end of the month. That resonated so deeply because I suddenly felt like it wasn’t just me. I hadn’t failed.
The JRF conference opened the door to a conversation that I believe needs to be had – one which affects me personally, and one where I thought I could provide a subjective perspective; as one of the statistics.
I hope that this Note helps anyone struggling to understand that while their circumstances might be unique, they are certainly not alone.
If you’ve been impacted by anything you have read in this Note, you may wish to visit some of these resources: