Living spaces affect mental health

By Olivia Rosenberg, Assistant buzz Editor

The months of isolation that the world went through during quarantine raise questions for many about how someone’s housing circumstances contribute to their overall well-being, specifically their mental health.

What could the effects of being in a certain home environment potentially be? 

Dr. Andrea Amerio at the University of Genoa in Italy and co-authors from psychology, architecture, neuroscience and epidemiology fields of study explore this question in their 2020 study, COVID-19 Lockdown: Housing Built Environment’s Effects on Mental Health.

According to the authors, their study is the first known large-scale investigation into the effects that housing environments have on mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“A strong association between poor housing and moderate-severe and severe depressive symptoms was found, with particular reference to small apartments, poor-quality, views and scarce indoor qualities,” the study said. 

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When living in certain conditions for a long period of time without escape, like quarantining for COVID-19, they found that there are multiple lasting effects on one’s psyche. 

“Quarantined individuals are significantly more likely to report psychological distress, anxiety and depressive symptoms along with fear, irritability, anger, emotional exhaustion and insomnia,” the study said. 

They reflect on significant isolation periods in a singular home environment being damaging to mental health due to both being alone and being stuck in one place.

Additionally, they found that if the conditions of their place of stay are poor, the impacts grow and could potentially last the rest of one’s life. 

“Considering housing conditions, units with poor housing quality and non-functioning or inadequate indoor facilities were related to current and lifetime depressive symptoms,” the study said. 

Hayden Johnson, sophomore in Engineering and first-time apartment renter, said he noticed firsthand how his complicated housing experiences had significant impacts on his mental health over time. 

After a week of animal infestations and maintenance issues in his apartment, Johnson recalled the obstacles he had to overcome to manage his personal and academic life. 

“During that week, I became irritable, had trouble sleeping and was unable to focus on anything else, even when not at home,” Johnson said. “While I was able to work in other places or open windows to air the place out, all of this requires time that in some cases I didn’t have.”

He said his behavior worsened during the time of the housing issues because his home environment was disrupted and unreliable. He said his ADHD significantly worsened due to the housing situation he faced. 

“In the context of having ADHD, having to work around things like this or having to make a large number of maintenance reports can have a large immediate effect because it pushes everything academically back until the conditions can be improved or an alternative can be found,” Johnson said. 

He emphasized the importance of handling housing issues like his before they spiral out of control and continue to be detrimental to mental health as these types of issues tend to build upon each other. 

“For first-time renters like myself, it can be difficult to know how to respond when things aren’t going right, and it’s essential to do so before they grow beyond what you can take on,” Johnson said. 

The University provides many different housing options for students, whether it’s on-campus or off-campus housing. While living in an apartment is an option for upperclassmen like Johnson, many first years and other students opt to live in the dorms. 

Lauren Day, freshman in LAS, lives in the dorms. She recognized that the quality of her dorm plays a big part in the effects her housing environment has on her well-being. 

“I would say that overall, my experience hasn’t been that bad, but I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that I am living in a nicer dorm with air conditioning, private bathrooms, etc.,” Day said. “I don’t think I would feel the same way if I was living somewhere else.”

In her experience with being stuck inside in a semi-isolation due to weather conditions, Day said that is when she noticed her housing environment was affecting her the most intensely. 

“The only time I have spent in somewhat isolation was during the recent snowstorm,” Day said.  “I didn’t leave the room much the few days we were snowed in. I felt that definitely negatively affected my mental health because I wasn’t going outside, and I was confined to a smaller space.”

For Callie Walsh, freshman in Engineering, her dorm housing experience has been one that is overall supporting her mental health.

“I found that living in a dorm is beneficial to my mental health because if my thoughts are overwhelming me, there is always someone to spend time with, just so you don’t have to be alone with your stressors,” Walsh said. 

Similar to the information found from Amerio and collaborators’ study, Walsh explained that without having to experience isolation, she noticed an improvement in her mental state. 

“Being around people is a constant motivator for me,” Walsh said. “I am somewhat extraverted, so I get energy from my friends, and they help motivate me to work. With the dorms being such a social space, I am more inclined to have a clean dorm, which improves my mental health.”

While the physical space is a large contributor to someone’s housing circumstances, she emphasizes that being around others makes any issues with the space less significant as her community is what makes the experience significantly better. 

“It is definitely the people,” Walsh Said. “Without the people, it would be a small, overheated, room where I work and sleep. The people really bring it to life.” 


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