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More now than ever it is apparent housing and health care are inextricably linked. Idaho will be unable to contain the coronavirus if anyone is without a home during this pandemic, and it is essential to our immediate and long-term public health that all Idahoans have access to safe and affordable places to live.

However, health care extends beyond the physical. Idahoans are experiencing unprecedented levels of personal stress due in large part to financial uncertainty and housing instability caused by the pandemic. There is a direct correlation between increased levels of stress and worsening symptoms of mental health conditions. As we navigate these tumultuous times, preserving adult mental health by mitigating external factors within our community control is paramount.

Gov. Little and Idaho’s providers quickly initiated policies and practices ensuring Idahoans can access mental health services from home during the pandemic. These changes—such as extended access to telehealth opportunities—ensure many Idahoans with mental health conditions can easily reach out to their providers to navigate the stress and uncertainty of the coronavirus.

Despite this swift response, many Idahoans experiencing unemployment due to coronavirus lost their health insurance — resulting in lapses in care. Some impacted Idahoans can access insurance through Idaho’s extended Medicaid program or by special circumstance on the Idaho health insurance exchange. However, as the only state exchange to not fully open its enrollment period, Idahoans are falling through the cracks. This could have long-lasting impacts on those needing access to consistent or urgent mental health services.

The financial impacts of the pandemic are a double-edged sword, contributing to heightened levels of stress and impacting individuals’ thresholds for healthfully coping. An example of one external stressor is widespread housing insecurity, which is more prevalent and urgent as income and employment instability make it increasingly difficult for Idahoans to pay rent. Idahoans with mental health conditions can find little comfort when their homes are in jeopardy.

The entire family benefits when the head of household is able to manage their stress healthfully and maintain stable mental health. Parents responsible for teaching their children at home have extra emotional capacity to connect with their children in this challenging environment, paving the way for better academic performance and maintaining healthy relationships with their parents. Little is known about how the pandemic will impact children long-term, but prioritizing sustainable mental health practices and protections, like making sure families can weather this crisis with a roof over their heads, will likely go a long way in ensuring the healthy development of Idaho’s youth.

As mental health conditions are exacerbated during the pandemic, policies ensuring Idahoans won’t be displaced will bring comfort to Idaho’s families. We encourage our lawmakers to enact policies that ensure no Idahoan will lose their home as a result of being unable to pay their rent or mortgage due to coronavirus. Examples of effective policies include providing emergency rental assistance to families at risk of facing eviction or homelessness and halting all evictions and foreclosures during the time of the pandemic.

Emily Allen is assistant program director for Empower Idaho, a program committed to changing the conversation about behavioral health to one of understanding and compassion.

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