A LONG-term homeless man has revealed that he came close to suicide because of his desperate financial plight.
He blames a vicious spiral of not being able to afford an Inverness property and his intense anxiety for not being able to work.
Merseyside-born Allan Woodward (31) moved to the Highland capital about three years ago to be closer to his young son after a break-up with his partner.
After a brief spell sleeping rough, he has since lived in temporary accommodation including several months under Moray Council’s wing in Forres.
Mr Woodward’s life-threatening drama ended with a court conviction for possessing a knife in a public place.
“The knife wasn’t aimed at anybody else, it was aimed at my throat,” he said.
A tragedy was avoided because, in desperation, he called the police himself.
“I contacted them before I actually went onto the roof of the Rose Street car park,” he said.
Mr Woodward claimed the council had acknowledged that his 150 ‘points’ – graded under a system of personal circumstances including the period of homelessness – is unprecedented.
But his persistence in trying to find an affordable Inverness home has proved fruitless and he claims being English has not helped his cause. The council has insisted no-one is discriminated against.
“I just want to be housed,” he said. “So, okay, living in rented accommodation I’ve got a roof over my head but I suffer from mental health difficulties and it doesn’t help my anxiety.
“I’ve known people who’ve been housed a lot quicker than me.
“I’ve been a homeless neighbour to two men who’ve been housed before me – and they had less points than me.
“The council are very flippant. They continually assure me that I’m top of the list but they’ve been doing so for the last six months.”
His plight surfaced almost a year ago after it emerged that 900 homes were standing empty in the city while nearly 1000 people were registered as living in temporary accommodation.
Mr Woodward said at the time that he could not afford to work because his supported temporary accommodation – funded by housing benefit – costs hundreds of pounds per week and private lets are too costly.
A spokeswoman for Highland Council said anyone making contact with concerns about their security of tenure, or potential or actual homelessness will be treated with respect and in confidence. She therefore declined to comment on an individual case.
The festive season might seem to fill everyone else might be full of excitement and anticipation, but you can’t shake the nagging feeling that your mental health is about to take a turn for the worse.
It might feel counterintuitive that a period of family, time off work and eating your body weight in chocolate could make you feel low, but many people find exactly this in the run up to Christmas.
The reasons for this can be very personal (perhaps you’ve lost someone close to you and the holidays remind you of this) but there are lots of common things that might be triggering this feeling too.
So HuffPost UK spoke to experts who specialise in anxiety, depression, and more general mental health to ask why these things can be triggered at this time of year.
Why does my mental health get worse at Christmas?
It’s no surprise that many people worry about being able to afford all the extra expenses the season brings, especially as the costs just keep racking up, and knowing that this will continue into the new year can make the problem even worse.
A spokesperson for Anxiety UK says: “Financial difficulties may cause a great deal of anxiety at Christmas with presents to buy, outfits to pick out and all the festive ‘essentials’, such as tree decorations and gift-wrapping that need to be considered.
“Navigating your way through crowded shopping centres can also prove to be a nightmare.”
A 2015 survey by Mind found that 20% of people have felt lonely during Christmas as not everyone has family or friends to spend it with, and those of us who have experienced the loss of a loved one may find Christmas particularly difficult.
Stephen Buckley, head of information at Mind, says: “At Christmas existing problems can seem even bigger – if you are lonely, it can highlight how lonely you are and make you feel that you should be socialising.
“Although loneliness itself isn’t a mental health problem, the two are often strongly connected and feeling lonely can have a negative impact on your mental health.”
More Social Engagements
This might seem ironic given that many people struggle with loneliness, but those people who do have active social lives might find this doesn’t solve the problem either, as this party season can be overwhelming.
The Mind survey also found that 19% of people had pretended to be sick to get out of staff Christmas parties and 25% of adults in UK feel anxious about social gatherings during the festive period.
If you do make it out of the house, the amount you are drinking at this social occasions (and just about anywhere else around Christmas) can make mental health worse as well, as it exacerbates anxiety.
Chloe Brotheridge, an anxiety expert at Calmer You, says: “Despite its association with merriment, alcohol is actually a depressant, it lowers our sleep quality, and many people experience hangover anxiety (hangxiety) the day after a big night on the booze.”
Everyone knows that social media can be the perfect catalyst for perpetuating feelings of low self-esteem and self-comparison, as it encourages us all to believe we should have a perfect Christmas.
The Anxiety UK spokesperson added: “Those of us with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram may feel even more pressure to have a ‘perfect holiday’ as our feeds continually update us on the developments of other peoples’ lives.”
Darker evenings and colder weather can have an impact on our daily lives, and going for days without seeing any sunlight may lead to feelings of sadness.
What can I do to improve my mental health at Christmas?
Share Your Feelings
Whether it is with family, friends, or a trained counsellor, sharing how you are feeling is the first step towards making things better at any time of the year.
Stuart Hill, senior digital lead for the Mental Health Foundation, says: “It’s hard to admit that at such an exciting time of year you don’t actually feel that great. But talking about your feelings can improve your mood and make it easier to deal with the tough times. It’s part of taking charge of your mental wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.”
Get Out Of The House
It can be tempting just to hibernate, avoid social engagements, and not leave the house, but Hill says that you shouldn’t let the cold weather put you off.
“It’s no surprise that cold weather and short days are not the greatest motivation to get you out of bed and on a 5k run! But research shows that doing exercise releases chemicals in your body that can make you feel good. Regular exercise can boost your self-esteem and help you to concentrate, sleep and feel better,” says Hill.
Take A Break From Social Media
If you think that social media could be playing a part in how you’re feeling (it is likely to be doing so) then why not take a digital detox and step away for a little while. It can be 24 hours or days, depending on how you feel, but you might be surprised by the difference.
Buckley says: “If you are feeling bombarded by external pressure to be spending money, socialising and having a good time over the festive period, you could consider taking a break from technology and set aside some time each day to do something else you enjoy like reading a book or watching movies.”
Give Some Thought To Self-Care
As soon as our mental health suffers, we can all be guilty of not taking the time to address our own self-care (especially around Christmas when we are so busy with other commitments).
Botheridge says: “If it’s not scheduled in, it often doesn’t happen so I believe we need to schedule our downtime and self-care to ensure we make it our priority. Several times a day, check in with yourself and ask yourself – how am I speaking to myself right now?”
Eat Well And Drink In Moderation
Of course we want to stuff our faces completely overindulge, but actually this can just contribute to an all-round ill picture of health (not just mentally).
Hill says: “For example, too much sugar can have a noticeable effect on your mental health and wellbeing in the short and long term.
″[And] some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness, but the effect is only ever temporary. It’s great to catch up with friends or colleagues in the pub – spending time on good relationships is essential for good mental health – but know your limits. It’s important to maintain your wellbeing, too.”