The impact of moving house on mental health

The impact of moving house on mental health

According to Mental Health First Aid, nearly half of all adults in America will experience mental illness at some point in their lives. At any given moment, 1 in 5 American adults are experiencing mental illness. And more than 40% of those living with mental illness aren’t receiving any kind of treatment at all.

With those kind of statistics, it’s important to us at Move It With M&S, LLC to do our small part in helping making one aspect of people’s lives as stress-free as possible: Moving. 

To that end, we interviewed Kriss Judd, an expert in mental health, having lived with mental illness for more than 35 years. She’s moved 15 times, and knows the pitfalls that can arise from moving with mental illness.

Mental health expert Kriss Judd pointing to a large banner on her wall that reads 'YAWP!'

Move It: Kriss, thanks for letting us interview you today! What would you say is the biggest risk to mental health when it comes to moving?

Kriss: I’m happy to be here! The biggest risk is going to be stress. Anybody who’s ever moved will tell you how stressful it was. From decluttering, to donating or selling belongings you don’t want to move with you, to packing, to unpacking, it’s just a monstrous task for anybody.

But when you get to the population of people living with mental illness, stress becomes this whole other beast. Stress can kick off anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or rapid mood swings like nobody’s business.

Think of it like this: for mentally healthy people, moving is like a campfire. You don’t really want to be sleeping on the ground, shaking critters out of your shoes, but the roasting marshmallows part is kind of nice. When you pour the gasoline of mental illness on a campfire, you’ve got a bonfire at best, and a forest fire at worst. It can get ugly fast.

Move It: What do you think the biggest stressor is for people with mental illness when they move?

Kriss: Man, there are so many… For me, it was always this superphobia – athazagoraphobia. Fear of forgetting something. I mean, I’ve got FOMO to the Nth degree, but this is a different beast. I’ve got the functional memory of a Fruit Loop, and forgettingness just terrifies me.

Move It: So how do you fight back against that?

Kriss: Lists. Lots of lists. With a master list of all the other lists. I keep everything in Google Docs, so I can access my lists from any device, including other people’s devices when I forgot to bring one with me. I also use Trello and a to-do list gamification site called Habitica to keep track of some lists. I wish I’d had your moving checklist every time I moved – if I’m ever stupid enough… er… excited enough to move again, I’m going to hang printouts on every wall I’ve got.

Move It: Is it simply the process of moving that has mental health implications?

Kriss: Absolutely not. The reasons behind the move can be stressors in and of themselves. Maybe you got laid off, or a family member died. Maybe you got married or you’re relocating to the home office in another state. Maybe you just found out you’re expecting triplets. 

Any of those could be a huge stress bomb in a mentally healthy person’s life. That gasoline of mental illness makes it that much stronger.

Move It: It sounds like you’re saying any kind of change can be a problem.

Kriss: Absolutely! We get stuck in our ruts and it takes a nuclear warhead to blast us out of them. Any change can force you into having a new worldview. When that change is accompanied by a move, or is the move itself, you’ve literally got a new view of the world.

One of my diagnoses is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. I’m a counter. As in, someone who counts, not like, formica or granite. Before my last move, I knew I could calm down by counting the 13 blocks in the sidewalk across the street that I could see from my window. 

But now, the nearest sidewalk is a mile away, and all I can see is the electric pole and my next door neighbor’s house. I’ve tried doing the Sesame Street Count von Count thing, y’know, “One! One electric pole! Ha, ha, ha!” Doesn’t quite work for me like it does him.

Move It: I’ve got to ask, moving 15 times in 23 years, is that due to mental illness issues?

Kriss: Oh, sure. One was a manic episode where I dropped out of college to move across the country and marry a guy I met online. Bad idea, don’t recommend it. One was the end of a manic episode, where I realized I was working for $5 an hour for 90+ hours a week, and recognizing how ridiculous that was. A few have been depression and/or anxiety.

Move It: Has anything in particular helped with so many moves?

Kriss: Making time. Taking time. Time to pack and unpack, time to declutter, sure, all the practical stuff. But mostly time to grieve the loss of the home and life you’ve been living, for however long it was. One of my longest grief periods was 3 months, over a place I lived at for 3 weeks.

Bonus – here’s something that DOESN”T work: trying to outrun your problems by moving. Doesn’t work a bit. Your problems are all packed up and ready to move with you.

Move It: How can people with mental illness mitigate the stress they’re feeling, to avoid breakdowns when they’re moving?

Kriss: It’s a mindset thing. Neurochemically, stress and excitement are the same thing. Making the conscious decision that you’re excited can be the make it or break it moment for someone with mental illness. I’m not saying it’s easy; it’s often incredibly hard. But it’s doable.

Move It: Anything else that helps?

Kriss: Having a moving company that cares about the people involved in the move helps a TON. And having a moving company where someone like Theresa is there to help you keep your cool on moving day is a godsend. At least half a dozen of my moves would have sucked way less if she’d been there.

Even if it’s not Theresa herself, someone compassionate who knows all about moving, someone on the crew, someone who’s moved 15 times in 23 years, y’know, any kind of empathetic support person, they can be invaluable. 

Move It: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us!

Kriss: My pleasure! I’m delighted to be of service!

Learn more about Kriss at

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