Mental Health within the Homeless Population

Published By: Tasneem Va

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According to the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), ~500,000 individuals were homeless on a given night in the United States in 2015. Of those, 25% were seriously mentally ill, and 45% had any mental illness at all. Comparing these numbers to the general population in the United States, only 4.2% of adults have been diagnosed with a serious mental illness. It is without question that one of the leading causes of homelessness is inadequate availability of mental health services to indigent communities and the population at large.

Harsh living conditions, poor health outcomes, social isolation, and high likelihood of assault are only very few areas where homeless individuals are considered high-risk and are disproportionately affected. According to the Brain & Behavior Research foundation, mental illnesses and disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, and substance abuse are extremely common within the homeless population. As a result of poverty, lack of affordable housing, and loss of basic human necessities, disorders like these often go unnoticed and untreated which often leads to poor outcomes such as increased suicidal tendencies, incarceration, and death.

There is a common misconception that homelessness is a result of poor decisions and may even be preventable. In all actuality, for many homeless individuals and entire communities, it is a result of unfortunate circumstances and lack of support. In a way, homelessness may be preventable but not based on the individual’s actions or decisions but rather on the health services that are widely available to the public.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there is a significant correlation between rates of homelessness and facing severe and chronic mental health disorders. Poor mental health outcomes may disable individuals which, without the proper support and assistance, could possibly lead to job loss, loss of permanent residence, loss of insurance, loss of transportation, and countless other issues that build on one another. This devious cycle and domino effect is all too prevalent in the homeless population as treatment and care has become increasingly difficult to attain. Many mental health professionals and researchers agree that the relationship between mental health and homelessness is a significant two-sided relationship; the presence of a mental health disorder may exacerbate the struggles of homelessness and homelessness itself may exacerbate and cause mental health disorders. So, what’s the solution?

Evidence based practice provides a preventative care model to combat this very issue. It is critical for every community to call for implementation of preventative health strategies such as making a variety of counseling services widely available, normalizing seeking care, and battling negative stigma surrounding mental health care and terminology. However, preventative actions can also be taken to avoid the increased rates of homelessness. There are few programs that combine both approaches by providing care and housing to homeless individuals with mental illnesses. Although this is the beginning of a long battle with mental health in the homeless population, understanding the roots of this issue will ultimately shine a light on possible solutions.

About the author
Tasneem Va
Tasneem Va is an Indian-American based in Orlando, FL. She recently graduated with her Bachelors Degree from UCF, working in the IT field. Tasneem enjoys traveling and volunteering with Project Downtown: Orlando in her spare time. She is passionate about helping the homeless population in any way to get back up on their feet.

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