This research project analysed housing policy interventions that help young people in recovery from mental illness. In particular it examined the way independent housing assists them access informal resources (e.g. family, peer and social networks such as sporting, church, cultural and community groups) at a local community level, and how this might promote other outcomes such as social inclusion, employment, and better health.
The research involved 38 youth from Melbourne and Tasmania aged between 22 and 31 recovering from mental illness. Reported mental health diagnoses included bi-polar disorder; schizophrenia/schizo-affective disorder; depression, or major depressive disorder and Asperger Syndrome. Formal interviews with participants were supplemented by information about the way they accessed resources from a mapping exercise, a walking tour and photographs. Housing and mental health policy-makers and practitioners and service providers were also consulted through focus groups (one in Melbourne, one in Launceston) to explore how informal resources might be mobilised in the design of novel housing initiatives for youth in recovery.
The study found that social inclusion and housing security proceed or grow together for youth in recovery. The study concluded that the ‘lived experience’ of housing security for youth in recovery is as much to do with one’s community attachments—the sense that one belongs in a community, and has a range of connections to local people and places to sustain this belonging—as it is a product of the tenure and/or amenity of one’s home. This suggests that social inclusion functions to support housing security, and why efforts to enhance young people’s experience of social inclusion ought to remain a key focus of housing policy and service innovation.
Housing and mental health support workers should seek to build upon the 'individual' narratives that are constructed by clients in their efforts to forge positive relationships to people and places in their communities. The analogy of a 'journey to recovery' offers a metaphorical pathway to establish a basis for trust and mutual respect.
Finally, there are grounds to argue that housing organisations should emphasise, far more than they currently do, the informal aspects of community support and social inclusion over and above the bureaucratic reporting mechanisms that are currently in vogue. Indeed, it is likely to be the case that the informal pathways to social inclusion, recovery and housing security available in young people’s communities are at least as important over the longer term as formal ones.
Authors: Cameron Duff, Keith Jacobs, Stephen Loo and Shane Murray