Secret Battles: How Technology Helps Residents Overcome Everyday Adversities
June 16, 2020
When I moved out of my parent’s house, at the “all-knowing” age of 18, I remember the excitement I felt about doing everything for myself. I couldn’t wait to start my new adventure as a self-proficient adult, and I was certain I could handle anything the world threw at me. Well, almost anything. I couldn’t handle phone calls to make appointments. I couldn’t gather enough courage to walk into a building and pay my bills in-person. I couldn’t seem to make myself function in the “normal” way that I had imagined myself doing once I moved out.
That’s because I’m 1-in-5.
A Shocking Statistic
According to the National Institute of Mental Illness, 1-in-5 U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness. The most common of these are depression and anxiety. In my case, I suffer from both, with my anxiety leaning more towards social anxiety disorder. Social Anxiety Disorder is an “anxiety disorder characterized by extreme fear or anxiety in one or more social settings.”⁽¹⁾ Those who suffer from Social Anxiety (around 15 million Americans) often fear social situations like parties, one-on-one conversations with a stranger, or an excessive fear of humiliation that limits their ability to work and create lasting relationships.
While many of our bills were payable online, a choice few required in-person or by mail payment. As I have always been the forgetful type, mailing never worked well for me, so I often found myself in the position of having to pay these select utility bills on location. I was so against paying these myself that I would beg my fiance, now husband, to pay them for me. If I got sick and needed to make an appointment with our family doctor, I would call and ask my mother to make it for me.
These things seem like the behaviors of a scared child to some, but they were very real problems for me. When I was forced to make the payments myself, I would walk up to the counter, my heart racing and my teeth chattering, refusing eye contact, and hold out the money.
What’s most interesting about my condition is how well I managed to hide it from others. Even my fiance didn’t fully understand my struggle until he witnessed an anxiety attack in-person. On the outside, I smiled, laughed, and chattered away with others. By all accounts, I come across as a social butterfly. But inside, as I conversed, I would mull over my words, scared that even the simplest of phrases would be misinterpreted or that I would stumble and stutter out what I was trying to say. In fact, my fear of speaking may be one of the reasons I fell in love with writing at a young age. In writing, I can pass through my thoughts and make corrections as I go whereas spoken words cannot be unspoken.
Comfort in the Little Things
Online bill payment was a tremendous relief for me. It’s a convenience, pulling up an app or the browser on your phone to pay your bills is simple and doesn’t require much time. But for me, it meant I didn’t have to talk to anyone. It meant I didn’t have to pretend I was comfortable when I was not.
Twelve years, a move to a new state away from my family, and the addition of three children has had surprising changes on me. Forced to do the tasks necessary to care for my children, I’ve been able to work through some of the fears I had as a young adult. Yet, even though I have improved, I still prefer tools that allow me to avoid the things I fear, like online bill payments or conversations through text.
It’s because of my own history that I feel so strongly about the tech integrations in apartment communities. I know I’m not the only one who has ever feared these kinds of interactions.
Tech Innovations that Improve Conditions for Those With Mental Illness
Online rent payment means those suffering from mental illness can pay their rent in peace. AI-driven customer communication removes the fear of speaking with someone over the phone and allows a resident to communicate completely through text. Virtual touring and self-guided touring allows a potential resident to view the apartment at their own pace and without feeling constrained by the need to make small-talk with a stranger. Smart locks and AI-driven maintenance communications make it easier for a resident prone to avoid social interactions to schedule time away from their apartment for maintenance.
All of these features, while merely time-saving conveniences for others, can ultimately make an apartment a home for someone with a mental illness like my own.
Overlooked, Ignored, and Misunderstood
There has been an overwhelming stigma regarding mental illness in our country for a long time. People everywhere are still speaking out, sharing their truth, as a way to destroy that stigma today. But, despite all the work that is being put into making the world a better place for those suffering, a lack of understanding about mental illness still makes communications with residents a challenge.
Owners and property managers should prioritize finding ways to communicate with their residents in a way that is easier for all those living in the community, while also understanding that while some requests might seem odd, they likely have a strong motivation behind them. The tenant in apartment 10B might tape a note to the office window after hours to avoid speaking with staff, and the resident in 21A’s apartment might be messier than usual during this maintenance request because they are battling a bout of severe depression. Make efforts to empathize with your residents and provide them opportunities for comfort within the needs of their illness, and you’ll have a lifelong resident.
⁽¹⁾ - Mental Illness. (n.d.). Retrieved May 29, 2020, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml