Poor mental health, price of volatile economy

emma-bakerHigher interest rates will put Australians already experiencing housing stress under added pressure, resulting in a decline in their mental health and well-being, the authors of a new study warn.

In the first Australian study of its kind, funded by the NHMRC, Flinders University geographer Dr Emma Baker [pictured] and epidemiologist Dr Rebecca Bentley from the University of Melbourne have established a direct relationship between extended periods of housing stress and poor mental health outcomes.

They presented their findings at this month’s Australasian Housing Researchers Conference in Sydney.

“The evidence is compelling: the longer the time spent in housing stress, the greater the impact on mental health,” Dr Baker said.

“With the economic volatility of the global financial crisis, this phenomenon is likely to increase over the next few years.”

Dr Baker said that while the effect is greater for women in the short term, the impact on men is more onerous in the long term.

“We found that women suffered initially but acclimatised more quickly to poor housing affordability, whereas men tended to shoulder the burden of providing for housing costs.”

The findings are based on the responses of 13,000 people – representing the lowest 40 per cent of income distribution who spend more than 30 per cent of their income on housing – who participated in the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey over the five-year period between 1999/2000 and 2005/2006.

The survey includes a self-reported measure of mental health and well-being based on responses to 36 questions.

“Our research confirms that housing policy and health policy aren’t separate things. Governments and policymakers really need to consider them together,” Dr Baker said.

The researchers are now undertaking a project funded by VicHealth to more closely examine the health outcomes of people in vulnerable housing situations through a series of qualitative interviews.

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