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Housemate refusing to social distance? Here’s how a mental health expert suggests you respond


Jessica Nelson
21 April 2020
Housemates story

Living with others can be stressful, but with the added pressure of the coronavirus outbreak, now is the time for housemates to practise good communication … and hygiene.

Southern Cross University mental health expert Professor John Hurley says dealing with a housemate who isn’t adhering to strict social distancing measures can be tricky.

“The best advice I can give to people who want to inform a housemate about the importance of social distancing, is being able to let them know your position, but doing so without any heavy emotion,” said Professor Hurley who specialised in youth and mental health and emotional intelligence.

“No matter what your situation is, you can’t actually make other people do what you want them to do. They have to make a personal choice regarding their own personal responsibility.

“The best you can do is have a direct honest conversation.”

Professor Hurley says the key is communicating without becoming angry or overly emotional – an important skill during times of stress.

“If your emotions are heightened, chances are your housemate won’t hear the message or your sound reasoning, but only the anger or emotion within the message.”

Before talking with your housemate, Professor Hurley said there are three steps to work through:

  1. You need to work out what outcome you want
  2. Regulate your own emotion
  3. Do everything and say everything in a way that will help get the outcome you want

“It’s appropriate to let the person know their decision not to isolate could impact vulnerable people, and ask them if that is the kind of person they’d like to be. That way they are required to reflect on their own behaviour without you judging their behaviour,” Professor Hurley said.

“Where possible it is beneficial to foster positive housemate relationships and feelings of ‘being in this together’ and being on the same team, as these are the people you may be spending a fair bit of time with under the same roof.

“As a household you can visit health department websites that give up to date information and show how to maintain hand hygiene so that you are all ‘armed’ with the same information.”