May is Mental Health Month – a good time to recognize the emotional toll homelessness takes on single mothers and their children. Poor mental health afflicts too many of the mothers and children in our program. Helping them means more than putting a roof over their heads. It means helping them confront and overcome their depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
Nanette, a Bridge of Hope participant, recently made this journey of healing. Nanette’s son had been in and out of the hospital for a year. She lost her job after missing too many days of work trying to take care of him. Then she and her son lost their home. For months they bounced between friends’ and relatives’ homes until they came to Bridge of Hope Lancaster & Chester Counties. Nanette was depressed and anxious about her family’s future.
With our help, Nanette found new housing. Rental assistance and a new job helped her and her son get back on their feet. But Nanette needed more. All her energy had gone into putting her life in order and caring for her son and she had set her own mental health needs aside.
When homelessness ends, mental health issues often linger. Homelessness can decrease a person’s coping mechanisms or trigger pre-existing mental health issues. In fact, The National Alliance to End Homelessness has stressed the need to address PTSD caused either by the trauma of homelessness itself, or by a distressing event that occurred during homelessness. Homelessness is more than lack of shelter; it has been described as a “stress-filled, dehumanizing, dangerous experience.”
In a study of mothers and children living in homeless shelters in Los Angles, over 70% of the moms reported symptoms of mental illness, but very few (15%) received appropriate care. Mothers with mental health issues are also significantly more likely to have children with depression or other behavioral health problems.
Bridge of Hope Lancaster and Chester Counties staff are trained in trauma informed care. They are alert to signs of trauma in mothers and children and know how to get them the help they need to heal. Every program staff member has completed Mental Health First Aid Responders courses and Cheryl Miles, Chester County Program Director, is completing the Trauma Competent Professional Certification from the Institute for Family Professionals
This training made all the difference for Nanette. Her Family Resource Coordinator recognized her need and connected her to skilled behavioral health care. Now and she and her son are on their way to a healthier, happier future.