When I was in high school, a new kid moved to our town and quickly became part of my group of friends. We called him “Communist Mike”. It wasn’t just a clever nickname. He literally was a communist.
Only about a year later, though, Mike passed away after taking his own life. It was an event that rocked not just our friend group but also the whole school. At the time, I don’t think any of us had ever known someone we saw on an almost daily basis pass away – I know I hadn’t. At that age, no one even considered it a possibility. Mike was only 15.
Every year, I think about Mike and all the things he’s missed out on since. He never graduated high school. He never went to university. I think about all the rallies and protests he didn’t attend, fighting for things like a universal living wage, against intolerance and discrimination. As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown much more interested in politics. But I feel his absence every year, because I wonder what he’d have to say about all these important issues if he were still with us.
Mike’s story, sadly, is all too common. It’s one we’ve all probably been touched by at some point in our lives. And, worse still, Mike is not the only person I’ve known who lost their battle with depression. The broader issue of mental health effects us all, and in more ways than we probably even realize. More often than not, those who suffer from mental health issues, like depression, suffer in silence.
I believe every real estate professional should be a passionate advocate for mental health support programs. Why? Well, besides it simply being the compassionate thing to do, because real estate professionals are in a unique position to help.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “While many factors can lead to homelessness, mental health plays a significant role – an estimated 25 to 50 per cent of homeless people live with a mental health condition.”
In other words, mental health problems and homelessness combine to create a vicious feedback cycle, where one puts up barriers in the way of solving the other. Those who are homeless have a better chance of finding housing if they are receiving treatment for their mental health challenges, but they’re more likely to find access to treatment if they already have housing.
It seems clear to me: Access to safe and affordable housing is the key to breaking that cycle.
So, I ask you: Who is in a better position to advocate for making housing safer and affordable for those who battle with mental health challenges than the real estate industry?
You might ask yourself where the money comes from to provide this support, and it’s a fair question. But consider that, according to CMHA, “Housing designed for people with mental health conditions can contribute to significant cost savings for the health system. It costs $486 a day ($177,390 per year) to keep a person in a psychiatric hospital, compared to $72 per day ($26,280 per year) to house a person in the community with supports.”
Consider, too, how many more Canadians might be in the market to buy their first home if it weren’t for the barriers they face because of their struggles with mental health.
After all, it would be right around this age my friend Mike might have become one of your clients, seeking to buy his first home, if he hadn’t lost his battle with depression.
(Well, assuming he wasn’t still a communist who didn’t believe in private property.)
William Molls is the Publisher and CEO of REM.