The consultant overseeing Trevor Sasar-de-Sain’s mental health treatment once told him he would need psychiatric support for the rest of his life.
Trevor had worked in finance before a breakdown triggered by an abusive childhood. He lost his job, his home and his marriage. After voluntarily admitting himself to hospital for psychiatric assessment, he was sectioned and then seen as an outpatient before living in a hostel and then a housing association property. He was, he admits, at his lowest ebb: “My world had disintegrated.”
Yet today Trevor lives in a three-bedroomed house in Leicester that he moved into under a shared ownership arrangement with Advance 10 years ago. He is a keen gardener with his own allotment, and volunteers for a local mental health charity.
Without the right environment to support his long-term recovery, says Trevor, things would have been very different. He recalls: “A year after I moved in here, my doctors compared my progress with my previous situation - they couldn’t believe it. The change is purely to the house and having the right environment to support my mental health.”
Before he found his home with the help of shared ownership, Trevor had been living in a two-bedroom flat in a housing association high-rise development and had the support of a daytime carer. While the flat itself was pleasant enough, says Trevor, he felt anti-social neighbours were exacerbating his mental health problems. He recalls: “I’d go to the rubbish chute and find someone sleeping rough, I’d see someone taking drugs on the stairwell or be accosted and threatened by street drinkers. I felt like I was on tenterhooks all the time and could feel myself starting to deteriorate.”
The crunch came with a panic attack in a city centre supermarket when Trevor, using his panic alarm to call for help, had to be taken back to his flat by social services staff. Speaking about his worsening state of mind to a support worker at a local mental health charity, he was introduced to the concept of shared ownership and Advance.
“I knew I couldn’t heal in a broken environment,” says Trevor. “I was determined to make something of my life but I needed to feel secure to do so.” He was interested in shared ownership, but sceptical: “My first question was ‘who’s going to give me a mortgage in my 50s with no real savings?’. It sounded unreal although once it was explained to me, everything fell into place.”
Once he found the right property, an ex-council house, he spent a lot of time and effort making it his own. Improvements to the garden led to an interest in growing his own fruit and vegetables, so he got an allotment. “Gardening and home improvements are a labour of love,” explains Trevor, “gardening is good mental health therapy and people stop at the garden wall and admire what you’ve done, it gives you sense of pride and boosts your confidence.” Trevor knows he would not have taken on the allotment if he had still been in the flat. “It’s the house that’s made me an allotment owner,” he explains, “because I felt confident with the house and proud of all the hard work put into it, inside and out.”
So what does home ownership mean to Trevor? “Full independence and control in life; belonging to a community again.” Trevor knows that mental health problems carry stigma and while he says it is too simplistic to think that home ownership resolves those issues, “having your own place helps you be a little more included in society and it supports your long term recovery, because you feel comfortable in an environment of your choice and you’ve got stability in your accommodation.”
Trevor’s story illustrates how home ownership encourages peace of mind and, more specifically, how choice and control in where you live supports recovery from enduring mental health issues. As he says, his house is permanent and makes him feel safe and secure.
While he stresses that mental health recovery is “50 per cent professional support – counselling professionals and maybe medical interventions – and 50 per cent individual determination”, shared ownership has played a key role in his return to more stable mental health. He adds: “How you find that determination and drive is crucial – you need to have stability to produce it, build up your resilience and get back to society. Being a home owner has given me my own haven of a home, and home is the biggest sanctuary that anyone can give you.”