Living with a learning disabilities or enduring mental health issues can sometimes mean that a lot of decisions are made for you. Either because your challenges dictate no other choice or because whichever choice you make, the options are being provided by a number of different experts.
This isn’t necessarily a negative – providing you are made to feel like you also have the option of saying no too – but it can start to feel like your freedoms are being eroded through circumstance.
The person centred approach we – and organisations like us – work to attempts to prevent that from happening: the individual always has the right to choose. This is true of anyone without learning disabilities or mental health issues so it should be the case for those with those challenges too.
Where it gets tricky is accountability. In a free society we all have the option to make bad decisions. In fact the law says we can (Mental Capacity Act 2005). We are raised, educated and ‘normalised’ to avoid them but we still have the freedom to make them anyway. However, we have to accept the consequences of those decisions.
Theoretically an individual with learning disabilities or enduring mental health issues has the same rights. However, those with challenges living in a residential setting can sometimes experience limited freedom.
This is either because there is an infrastructure exerting a degree of control over them or because some have diminished responsibility so not limiting their freedom would be negligent.
It’s very murky waters indeed. Balancing the individual’s choices – good or bad – and their personal wellbeing is something organisations have to wrestle with daily.
Of course this is just one side of it and an extreme example at that. Residential settings also provide a tremendous amount of help and support to those who need it. For some it’s a necessary and positive way of life.
The Housing Market
The housing market has always been cutthroat. Although regulations have been tightened over the years, there are still insufficient protections and inadequate rent control laws in place.
This means vulnerable adults or those with ongoing challenges – who may struggle with finances or may have diminished capacity – are particularly at risk of financial abuse, manipulation or eviction due to non-payment of rent.
The overwhelming majority of landlords – it must be said – are legitimate business people who treat all their tenants fairly; it is definitely something to be mindful of.
Moreover, individuals with learning disabilities or mental health issues may find it significantly harder to get a landlord to meet their obligations with regard to the upkeep of the property. Again, not all landlords are unreliable but someone with anxiety – for example – will struggle to challenge their landlord if there is a disagreement.
There is also the consideration that severe mental health issues can impact on employment and employment opportunities making the risk of homelessness much greater.
Failure to pay rent can result in court proceedings and a CCJ (County Court Judgement) which will more or less cripple any chances of renting or buying a property for the next 6 years.
Why Supported Living Helps
Supported living exists to give an individual with learning disabilities or enduring mental health issues the freedom to live their lives whilst still having professionals available to support them in the areas they need.
For those individuals with challenges who are transitioning from fulltime education and/or the parental home – supported living represents a fantastic opportunity to find their independence in a safe space.
But it does slightly more than that – it allows tenants to prepare for independent living. With the help of keyworkers, the individual can get comfortable making rent payments and creating budgets for food, socialising and all the other things that come with independent living.
After all it isn’t cheap and it isn’t straight forward. If the individual isn’t confident enough to challenge an unusually high gas bill – for example – then they could find themselves unable to make ends meet. It doesn’t take long for a debt cycle to ensue, rent arrears to build up and the individual – again – ends up in court facing a CCJ (County Court Judgement).
It crucially helps individuals who have challenges to learn the skills they need to go it alone.
Supported living is also an option – crucially – for those that need to take a momentary backwards step but don’t have family or friends to fall back on.
It provides the means so the individual has the freedom to explore their own interests and build a positive way of living but still offer support should they need it.
The entire focus is on empowering the individual to lead fulfilled lives and provides the stepping stone for people to be positive contributors to their local community.
There are some who may never leave the supported living environment. That’s fine too. The objective is for the individual to lead a happy and fulfilled life, no matter what form that may take.
Encompass Dorset provides supported living for individuals with learning disabilities, with enduring mental health issues and those who display challenging behaviour.