Editor’s note: Each month, the mental health experts at Ravenwood Heath blog about an aspect of how mental health affects other facets of our lives. This month, Heather Reznak explores how having a stable housing situation allows people to feel secure and confident to be able to build upon other areas of their lives. 

By Heather Reznak, MA
Housing Services Coordinator

Abraham Maslow, a psychologist who studied what drives human motivation, constructed the theory of the hierarchy of needs. It has been found that people motivated by their unmet needs cannot efficiently move to the next level unless their basic needs are being met. When we look at physiological, the first level of the pyramid, we see shelter, food, warmth, rest. These make up our biological necessities for survival. You cannot concentrate with an empty stomach just as you would have a difficult time finding employment or being successful without shelter. By human nature, we will use whatever we can to achieve our basic biological necessities.  When unable to meet those, we go into survival mode, releasing cortisol in the blood from the constant stress causing weight gain, diabetes, muscle loss, etc.

                One missed paycheck can force a family back down to the previous level. The burden of high housing costs causes families to have less money for resources needed for their children, such as for activities that could promote a healthy well-being. The use of housing programs leads to an improvement in parenting skills due to a reduction in daily stress, while the lack of housing can have ongoing physical and mental health effects on children. These housing programs, although traditionally seen as a way to assist families in need, are also a vital resource needed for our disabled and senior populations on a fixed income, affording them the opportunity to maintain their basic needs and promoting independence. With affordable housing programs available for these populations, there is also a reduction seen in hospital admissions, as well as an increase in those who seek regular medical treatment to improve their overall health.

                For those who can meet their basic lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy, they can then focus on love and belongingness, finding fulfilling and happy relationships. It is important to remember that not all individuals start off in life with the same resources and opportunities at a young age. We are often affected by the shortcomings of our families and our ability to adapt and engage with the world is impacted by our experiences early on. Providing subsidized housing programs is a way of boosting individuals who are experiencing a deficit in their basic needs, to help them thrive through independence, and improvement in both mental and physical health, giving greater outcomes to the generations ahead.  The goal of housing programs is to provide a person with the resources to move forward, gain life skills, and live a more successful life, which ultimately reduces the cost to society and promotes growth.

Heather is currently reading, Date and Time by Phil Kaye.