Paying A Heavy Price: The Mental Health Toll Of The Rental Crisis in Australia

Last month, Sydney-based Chantelle Schmidt received an email from her property manager saying that her rent was going up — by $700 dollars a fortnight. Unsurprisingly, the post went viral, receiving 3.8 million views.
Unfortunately, her story is far from uncommon. We've seen that the housing crisis in Australia has been getting increasingly worse for many months now — and Chantelle and her housemates are among many people who are experiencing sudden and exponential rent increases, or struggling to even find a decent and affordable place to rent in the first place. TikTok has been flooded lately with vlogs of people going to open houses, and finding themselves amongst unbelievably large crowds of other people who are also desperate for somewhere to live.
@9news Renters are facing a depressingly huge amount of competition in parts of Sydney. 🏠#sydneyrentals #9News ♬ original sound - 9News Australia
What’s become clear is that these inflated prices are not always an accurate reflection of the condition of these rentals, but mainly a consequence of rising interest rates that have landlords sweating under their mortgages. And despite their insistence that things are tough for them too, it’s renters (and specifically young renters) who are in the most vulnerable position if they're facing imminent financial crisis — or homelessness.
Housing is not only a fundamental human right, but a deep-seated psychological need, as it brings a foundational sense of security and safety to one's life. According to Maslow's renowned and widely accepted Hierarchy of Needs theory, someone can't achieve any kind of emotional or mental contentment without tending to their basic physiological needs first, including hunger, thirst, hygiene and somewhere safe to live.
It's no wonder that the current rental crisis in Australia is having a particularly heavy emotional and mental effect on people. Over the past few months especially, the financial pressures and the instability of present and future living situations have had a direct impact on the mental health of young Australians.

Having a secure place to live is critical to our sense of wellbeing, so it is no wonder that young people are experiencing heightened levels of emotional distress.

ash king, psychologist
Studies into the complex and direct relationship between housing stability and mental health have found that as much as mental ill health can lead to housing instability and homelessness, it also goes the other way around. The national Journeys Home survey conducted by the University of Melbourne found mental ill health diagnoses in 78% of Australians experiencing chronic housing instability or homelessness. In addition, 61% of people who had friends, family and relative stability still paid the price of their mental wellbeing due to the fluctuating and stressful nature of affordable housing.
"Stress and anxiety are natural emotional responses to existing in a world that feels unstable and unsafe," psychologist Ash King tells Refinery29 Australia. "Having a secure place to live is critical to our sense of wellbeing, so it is no wonder that young people are experiencing heightened levels of emotional distress when they feel uncertain about their ability to afford rent or find a home."
"Due to economic pressures, many young people are also having to stay living with family for much longer than previous generations too," Ash says. "This can also restrict the ability of young people to get out into the world, experience different social and co-habitational arrangements and freely explore burgeoning parts of their identity. It’s important that we don’t pathologise the emotional struggles of people whose living situation is unstable — having a home is critical to our sense of safety and belonging."
A state of impermanence is something that all renters struggle with to some degree, but with the recent fluctuations and increased demand for homes, these feelings are more pressing than ever. What was once a fun experience of finding and making a home out of a rental of your choosing, has now become an issue of survival and emotional distress — and a threat to your sense of belonging in the city you've made a life in.
“For me, there’s a lot of anxiety around how my life will look in two months from now,” Chantelle tells Refinery29 Australia. “If I can’t meet the expectation of my proposed rental increase and have to move away from the city, will this affect my professional opportunities? Relationships? It’s the unknown and the limbo in between that’s got me feeling out of sorts.”
@isabelnegv renters anxiety is real and it has been building up for the past 6 months 🫠 #sydney #rentalcrisisaustralia #fy #foryoupage #fyp #rentalcrisis ♬ original sound - isabel
Everybody’s Home is a national Australian campaign that seeks to fix the housing crisis, and was launched in 2018 by a coalition of housing, homelessness and welfare organisations. Maiy Azize, their national spokesperson, confirms that young people are more often than not on the lowest incomes and government payment schemes available, so it’s no surprise that we’re some of the worst-placed to deal with it.
"Rising rents are really hitting home for young tenants as of right now," Maiy tells Refinery29 Australia. "Our huge shortfall in social housing is making it worse, but this housing crisis doesn’t seem to be hitting home fast enough for those who hold the purse strings. Renters are constantly being smashed as a result of our broken housing system. Rents were already skyrocketing before interest rates started to rise. Now they’re being forced to pay even more.”
For Erin, 24, the inability to find an affordable place to rent actually led, in a roundabout way, to a long-overdue anxiety diagnosis. “I’ve always struggled with general anxiety, but I’ve been pretty good at self-managing," she tells Refinery29 Australia. "But I've been looking for a new place to live for the past couple months, as the rent in my current place has increased almost to what I make in a whole week, and I recently ended up having a panic attack about the whole situation in the middle of the supermarket. Since then, I’ve been seeing a psychologist for my anxiety which has helped so much. But honestly, I’m probably going to continue feeling pretty anxious until this is all over."
"Anxiety is challenging, but we can learn to have a better relationship with it," Ash concludes. "It's important to keep checking in with our emotions and normalising how we feel, given these challenging circumstances that we might be facing. Opening up to a close friend, who we feel safe and supported by, or speaking to a counsellor or psychologist) is an important step. Also, familiarising ourselves with what types of financial or housing support is available can be really beneficial. There are a number of local housing support services across Australia that you can reach out to if you find yourself at risk of homelessness."
At the end of the day, regrettably, the rental crisis is out of our control. While we weather the storm and wait for it to pass, our collective priority should be to make sure we stay as physically and mentally well as possible. And at the very least, you can take comfort in the fact that if you're struggling, you're definitely not alone.
If you or anyone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety, please contact Lifeline (131 114) or Beyond Blue (1300 22 4636). Support is available 24/7. 
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