Being unable to pay rent multiplies the risk of suffering a mental disorder by five

The mental health of those who have to be evicted suffers from uncertainty and anguish and can lead to serious disorders that need treatment

3 min

BarcelonaNot being able to pay the rent multiplies the risk of suffering a mental disorder by five. This is pointed out by a report from the Barcelona Public Health Agency and is confirmed every day by the Col·lectiu Sísifo, made up of four psychologists who take care of the emotional health of those who are about to lose the roof over their heads. The non-profit organization, which takes its name from a Greek myth, started in 2014 in the midst of a wave of evictions as a result of the housing crisis after having attended the neighborhood assemblies of Ciutat Meridiana, in which residents exposed their fears of being on the street.

Since then, they have assisted a hundred or so families in interventions that try above all to "give them strategies for change", because when they come seeking help they do so "with a lot of anguish", which can manifest itself in an "eating disorder, sleep disorders, phobias", explains Laia Farràs, a general health psychologist like the other members.

The "uncertainty" sustained for months of not knowing which door to knock on to get help, the difficulty in understanding the heavy procedures or the feeling of personal failure often lead to an "acute depression", in a picture of permanent sadness, and it is not uncommon that some of those affected end up in mental health consultations for serious disorders.

The case of Sants

In this year and a half of the pandemic, the state of alarm brought some tranquility for the anti-eviction laws and the moratorium. But at the same time, as Farràs points out, evictions from homes have continued and families have been bombarded with information and false news that have only added fuel to the fire.

Nobody knows what went through Segundo Fuentes' head, the man who committed suicide just when the judicial procession arrived at his home in Sants to throw him out, but that he never contacted any entity to help him. This isolation, says the psychologist, is fatal, while a good way to break the chain of discouragement is to find spaces among equals, with people who are going through or have gone through the same thing. Together they join forces, share resources, contacts and "network", in short. "The fact of associating also empowers them socially and they are able to assume the change because they find a network of cooperation", says Farràs.

The pandemic, which has disrupted everything, has also caused families who had achieved housing and emotional stability to have to go back to square one. It is not only the stress of losing the house, says the psychologist, but the situation is aggravated by unemployment, lack of income, the fact of having to hurry to find appointments for the food bank or social services. Physical survival leaves them with no time to take care of their emotional and mental health. The health emergency seems to be reaching the home stretch, but the collective is not sure that this August will be a strange and unconventional month compared to the usual summer calm, when no dates are set for evictions. On August 9th, the moratorium dictated by the Spanish government expires and there is some concern in the neighborhood that they want to make up for lost time to execute orders.

The psychologists basically deal with the mental health of the adults in the families but they know that the children are the other victims, who suffer the anguish and fears of their elders. For this reason, the days before and during the eviction they accompany them and are with them. Even if the eviction is not carried out. It is a temporary relief, insufficient to calm the anguish.