Ruth’s* story is a difficult one. It begins when her and husband are told by their private landlord that he is serving them notice on their home because he wants to sell the property. Ruth, her husband and their young son who was one at the time, had been living in the home as tenants for some time and had always been on time with their rent and bills. The notice for them to leave their home came as a complete shock to them.
The first thing Ruth did was go to the council who negotiated with their landlord for them to stay at the property but at an increased rent. The family had always been really careful with their money and this increase would be placing additional stress on them. Ruth did the calculations, looked at where they could make savings elsewhere, and she made sure they would be able to honour this new agreement.
Ruth’s husband had been battling with anxiety and depression for years and the added pressure started to take its toll. Ruth said: “At that point, he felt the safety and security of his home had been taken away. It didn’t feel like his home anymore. We weren’t unhappy with being given the notice to quit, we knew we’d have to move on eventually but the increase in rent was a big thing for us. We were both on benefits and both having mental health issues at that time. We had to take some of the money we put aside for our son and use it towards bills – that was really difficult.”
Ruth’s communications with the council started and she was unable to secure a change in their banding which would’ve supported them in securing social housing. She was beginning to worry about the affect it was having on her husband’s already poor mental health.
She remembers: “At that point, we started looking further afield. We started looking all over the UK, We eventually found a website for places in Lincolnshire which is where we’d spent our honeymoon. We came first in the queue for a house in a little hamlet. We thought it was perfect for my husband as his anxiety meant somewhere quiet would suit him.
I was pregnant at the time and we were really happy about that. I was making plans, looking forward to meeting my new child and for my son to become a big brother.
We drove all the way up to Lincolnshire to have a look. When we arrived we felt we were put under great pressure to make a decision there and then and we were putting pressure on ourselves to make a decision. Under all this pressure we signed the agreement. As soon as we were driving home the anxiety started hitting my husband. The move would take us far away from our friends and family. We were willing to do it because we wanted the security for our son and new child. I started making plans the next day, getting all the arrangements in place, from the utility suppliers to getting a quote for removals. We told our landlord that we’d signed a new agreement and would be leaving.”
The following day Ruth suffered a devastating event, she miscarried her baby overnight. Suddenly, the thought of being away from her family, especially her sister, was too much to bear: “At that point I just thought ‘why are we going?’.”
Unfortunately, their landlord was really unhappy about the change in plans and served Ruth and her husband with a notice to quit the house as he had someone lined up to move in.
The pressure became too much for Ruth’s husband and he went into, what she would later discover, a monumental panic attack. She recalls: “I walked into the bedroom and he was laid on the bed but he couldn’t move. He couldn’t talk. I started panicking. I ended up having to call 111 and they told me to get him to A&E but I just couldn’t move him. I got my sister-in-law over and eventually she was able to get him upright and speaking. He just couldn’t stop apologising to me. I couldn’t get him out of his panic attack because he told me that every time he saw me he just felt so guilty about everything we were going through and what he felt he was putting me through.”
Ruth got him to the doctors the next day and he was referred to the NHS mental health crisis team. His first appointment was particularly difficult and it became increasingly distressing for both of them. She said: “When we were able to sit down and talk, I found at that as soon as we found out we were first on the list for a house in Lincolnshire was when his anxiety started. It just built and built until it reached crisis point.”
While this was going on, the family still needed to make arrangements to find somewhere else to live. Ruth started getting tied up in red tape with the council and was starting to find it difficult to navigate. Everything started taking its toll on Ruth’s already fragile mental health. “I called Health in Mind and self-referred. They said I would probably benefit from counselling but what I needed straight away was practical support for all our housing issues – that’s when I was given a STaR worker, Helen, from Mid and North Essex Mind. Helen even came with me to a meeting with the council.”
It was at this point their landlord started legal proceedings, just before Christmas. The family were told they needed to quit the property during the Christmas holidays but because the solicitors were shut over Christmas, they were told that as soon as the offices reopened, the landlord would be pushing the process through the courts to apply for an eviction notice.
With Helen’s help, Ruth kept pushing through all the red tape to try and get their banding changed to make them eligible for social housing straight away. Ruth’s biggest concern was the thought of being placed in temporary accommodation and the affect it would have on her husband’s mental health as well as on her son, who is now in the process of getting a diagnosis of learning difficulties. It would’ve also meant they would have had to give up their dog, and as any dog owner knows, that could be a devastating blow to a family.
Ruth said: “The support Helen gave me meant so much. I suffer with anxiety myself and I was really low at that point. I was trying to look after everyone. The only time I was leaving the house was to go to the shop or take my son to pre-school. Going to the council for the meetings was stressful for me, to have Helen there made a real difference. If I needed someone to just help reassure me that things were moving on I knew I could just speak to Helen. She was the only support I had.”
What Ruth didn’t know was that Helen was also working hard in the background to try and do what she could. Helen said: “I thought there was something I could do but I needed to have a lot of conversations first before I could tell Ruth and give her hope. Time was running out and I was trying to push so the landlord could call off the court case. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.”
Finally in early January, with the court case looming over them, Ruth got the call that their eligibility had changed. The next thing they knew, they were top of the list and viewing a new house for the family. They knew straight away that they would take it: “Things started to happen really quickly. We got the phone call on the Tuesday and we were looking at the house a week later. As soon as we saw it a weight lifted from my husband and from me. We signed the paperwork a few days later and we had a new home.”
Now in their new home, and with the family settled, Ruth is attending counselling at Mid and North Essex Mind to start to address her anxiety. Her husband has been discharged from the NHS mental health crisis team and is also in a place when he can think about accessing help through Health in Mind. Health in Mind is the NHS organisation that helps people with a variety of mental health problems like mood, anxiety and stress. Mid and North Essex Mind work in partnership with Health in Mind to provide some of the services to support people – like free counselling and the Support, Time and Recovery Service (STaRS) which Ruth used for practical support.
Ruth cannot talk highly enough of the help she received from Mid and North Essex Mind, she said: “I want to say thank you to Helen. If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know where we would be right now, I don’t know what state my husband would be in. We would’ve been evicted. I very thankful, I really am.”
*Names have been changed