The following is a summary of a research project by the authors. For more information please see the published journal article:

Baker, E., Lester, L., Mason, K., & Bentley, R. (2020). Mental health and prolonged exposure to unaffordable housing: A longitudinal analysis. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology55, 715–721.

Author: Emma Baker1, Laurence Lester1, Kate Mason2, Rebecca Bentley3

  1. School of Architecture and the Built Environment, University of Adelaide.
  2. Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, UK.
  3. Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne.

The specialist referral system is a key operational component of the Australian health system, yet despite this, there has been limited scrutiny of the efficacy of the referral framework to support the changing health needs of Australians. A recent report by clinician and PhD candidate Samantha Prime, Associate Lecturer of Law Christie Gardiner and Director of the Deeble Institute for Health Policy Research, Dr Rebecca Haddock, highlights the many shortcomings in the current referral system and proposes key recommendations for reform.

Housing affordability has emerged as an increasingly pressing social and policy issue in Australia and across almost all post-industrial nations. A study led by Professor Emma Baker from the University of Adelaide found that both prolonged and intermittent exposure to housing affordability stress is associated with lower mental health. Professor Baker and colleagues analysed a large, nationally representative longitudinal sample of individuals from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey, following them over five-year periods to assess the mental health effects of different patterns of exposure to housing affordability stress.

The results of the study indicate that the mental health of people who experienced prolonged exposure to housing affordability stress was 1.5 points lower on the SF-36 Mental health Component Summary score, on average, compared to people without experience of housing affordability stress. People who experienced intermittent exposure to housing affordability stress also had lower mental health scores on average, a smaller effect than that for persistent exposure but statistically significant.

While initial mental health status explains some of the observed association between housing affordability stress and mental health, the relationship remained significant even after adjusting for initial mental health. The findings from this study highlight the need to understand the factors that lead people into prolonged affordability problems and have implications for the design of mental health interventions, which should be designed with people’s housing context in mind. The provision of affordable housing could be a valuable component of public health strategies that address the impact of the social environment on health.

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