How Can Your Home Affect Your Health?
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Lots of factors play into our health and wellbeing as humans. Some are more noticeable than others. However, where we live and the conditions of that housing can affect you in many ways. So how does housing affect health and wellbeing, exactly?
That’s what we’re looking into today. But before that, it’s important to understand what housing actually is.
Your Housing Is More Than Just Your House
So what is housing? This may sound funny, but your housing is more than just your house, your apartment or your dorm. It’s more than a shelter — it’s a place that should feel like a home.
Your housing is where you raise children, pets or a family. It’s where you relax and unwind away from the struggles of work and the outside world. It’s also where you bring friends to socialize and bond. In reality, it is where you spend most of your time.
But we can’t always have the best housing environment, whether it’s the housing itself, our neighborhood or financial factors. And the truth is that any of these variables can affect your physical and mental health, for better and worse.
The Link Between Housing, Health and Wellbeing
When looking at how housing can affect health and wellbeing, there are three main factors to take into consideration. These include the housing conditions, the neighborhood conditions and the financial affordability of the housing. All three of these can have a large impact on the wellbeing of the tenants living in that location.
Housing Conditions and Your Health
Housing conditions include physical hazards, poor quality of the space itself and an inadequate amount of space. For instance, poor housing conditions could include water leaks, poor ventilation, the use of lead paint, cracks or holes in the walls, pest infestations, mold, extremely high or low temperatures and/or overcrowding.
Physically, these conditions could cause illness, allergies or injuries. Mentally, they can cause stress, anxiety and in some cases depression.
For instance, poor conditions that lead to an increase in mold development can cause many physical reactions. According to the CDC’s page on mold, for people who are sensitive to molds, it can cause a stuffy nose, an irritated throat, itchy or red eyes and wheezing. For those who are allergic or have asthma, the effects of the mold can be even more severe, leading to more serious illness.
On the other hand, residential crowding can not only lead to poor physical health but also poor mental health. For example, overcrowding provides an environment that allows disease and illness to spread like a wildfire. This is especially true with respiratory infections.
Mentally, overcrowding can cause problems between residents, including hostility towards one another and depression. In some cases, it can play a role in more severe mental disorders.
Neighborhood Conditions and Your Health
Along with the conditions of the housing itself, the conditions of the neighborhood one lives in can also impact health.
According to a policy research brief that the Texas State Affordable Housing Corporation (TSAHC) reported on, “Neighborhood disarray — vacant lots and buildings, vandalism, trash, etc. — also contributes to feelings of hostility; on the other hand, greater neighborhood cohesion, defined as the sense that people are willing to help each other, lessens these symptoms.”
Neighborhood conditions that can impact the wellbeing of a resident include safe places to exercise or enjoy leisure time, crime rates, general violence and pollution. They can also include the amount and quality of public resources available to the residents, such as health facilities, grocery stores, police departments, schools and transportation. Lastly, employment opportunities in and around the neighborhood are also important.
Unfortunately, not all neighborhoods enjoy high-quality conditions. Those that do not can see its effects, both physically and mentally, firsthand.
Violent conditions can result in purposeful or sometimes accidental injury and, in some cases, death. Mentally, poor conditions can cause feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety. On the other hand, positive neighborhood conditions can increase residents’ hope for a bright future.
Housing Finances and Your Health
For a long time and a lot of people, finances have always been a point of stress. And finding affordable housing can be extremely hard. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, housing is considered “affordable” if it uses less than 30 percent of the family’s income to buy or rent it. This is an ideal situation, though.
A lack of affordable housing limits the choices that families and individuals have when deciding where to live. Lower-income families and individuals are then pushed to live in areas where the housing and the neighborhood conditions are poor. Moreover, the lack of affordable housing makes it harder to pay for other expenses and puts them under financial strain.
Struggling to pay for the essentials due to unaffordable housing typically draws these residents away from getting health insurance or primary medical care, leading to further health problems.
All of this can also impact residents’ mental health. For instance, consistently dealing with financial strain can lead to severe stress, anxiety and depression.
In their review of affordable housing and its effects, Enterprise Community Partners states that, “Researchers have found that when families do not have enough income left over to cover the rest of their household budget, children experience poorer health outcomes, lower levels of engagement in school and emotional/mental health problems. Families are also less likely to be able to afford the food they need for a healthy, active life.”
So, not only does housing affordability impact the health and mental wellbeing of the adults involved, but it can also impact the children.
What Is a Healthy Home?
Understanding how the different factors of housing can impact a person’s health and wellbeing is important, but it is also essential to understand what a healthy home is.
The Health Foundation has four factors that make up a healthy home. These factors include that the home is:
- Affordable and offers a stable and secure base
- Able to provide for all the household’s needs
- A place where we feel safe and comfortable
- Connected to community, work and essential services
You should closely consider each of these next time you find yourself looking for housing that will eventually become your home.