Coping with mental illness is easier with housing

By Tracey Arial

Thanks to donations from the Levinschi Foundation and a second anonymous private donor, eight people who have experienced their first episode of psychosis have homes.

“We don’t have the funding for this inside the system,” said Ina Winkelmann, the spokesperson for the Prevention and Early Intervention Program for Psychosis (PEPP) at the Douglas Mental Health Institute. “The goal is to make them independent and not have them moved around a lot. A lot of the group homes have time limits to living there.”

PEPP, which supports people aged 14-35, has been around for a decade, but it only began offering housing earlier this year.

“Among the first people we housed was a man whose girlfriend was pregnant,” said Winkelmann. “That stress was making his illness worse.”

Now, nine months later, the couple and their six-month-old daughter have stability for the first time since he had a psychotic breakdown in June 2012. He’s even working now, something he couldn’t imagine three weeks ago.

“Our life is normal,” said his girlfriend, as the family met with a reporter. “We take care of the baby. We prepare food. We have furniture. We’re not out on the street. I don’t know what we would have done without the support.”

Her boyfriend is grateful too, but he’s scared. He’s still coping with hearing voices all the time and he’s afraid of losing control again.

“I don’t know if I can explain to you quite what it is like,” he said. “It’s not just that there are voices in my head, but it’s what they say. They’re mean. They’re telling me to kill things. How can I get a job with them there? I can’t work with knives or tools. I can’t concentrate easily. I’m talking to you there, but later on, I might be looking over there.”

He’s talking about living with paranoid schizophrenia, a diagnosis that’s only just been confirmed. Medication has helped diminish his voices so he can stay in control, but they don’t go away.

He was particularly stressed the day we met because he had another appointment the following day to work out what he might do to fulfill 1,000 hours of community service stemming from a pre-illness run-in with the law. Prior to his illness, he’d racked up multiple parking and other vehicle fines that he was slowly paying off. He can’t work at his previous job, so he had to find another way to pay.

He didn’t know what job might be possible for him to do three weeks ago, but he’s working now, and it’s going well so far.

The community service is one step in learning what’s possible for him to do to support his family after he’s off the PEPP program.

Right now, that’s not somewhere he imagines being. He can’t quite imagine how he’ll work. He also wonders how he’ll pay for his medication, a monthly injection that costs $1,000 per dose.

These concerns are typical for many people in PEPP, says Winkelmann.

Having permanent housing takes one worry away.

“When we stop supporting them, they won’t have to move,” says Winkelmann. “The services are not attached to the place, but to the person.”

When the program ends, patients are capable of living independently with outpatient support. That’s something most can’t imagine when they are first diagnosed.
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