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The Connection Between Mental Illness and Homelessness

by Nicholas McKenna 2 months ago in support

The two are more related than you think

Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Its great that there's a lot of talk about mental health today because it's a major problem, but another major problem that's not getting much attention is the homeless issue. What some probably don’t know is that the two are clearly linked. With between 2.5 and 3.5 million people experiencing homelessness every year, this problem will not go away any time soon.

The Homelessness-Mental Health Connection

People who become homeless and have mental health problems normally suffer from the same problems. Distancing from the ones closest to them, poverty, and personal vulnerability.

Cognitive and behavioral problems arise making it difficult for these people to complete daily tasks such as keeping a job or maintaining their house. The stress of homelessness can make mental health worse causing them to turn to substance abuse.

Some believe that people become homeless because they had a previous mental health issue which caused them to lose their home. The truth is that mental health and homelessness are connected, and they can cause each other. A person can lose their home after losing their job, then develop a mental condition while living on the street. One can also develop a mental condition worrying about losing their job and in result become homeless.

Imagine waking up every morning at 5:00 AM to catch a 6:04 train into the city. You get in by 7, you're working by 7:30, and your days are nonstop. Add on your boss emailing you every 10 minutes, and clients arguing that something isn't right. No wonder you would develop a mental condition.

The same can be said if you lost your job and became homeless. Some of us are too proud to ask for help. They would rather deal with their problems on their own and suffer through the consequences of their actions. Having the stress of wondering where you're going to sleep that night, if you were going to shower, and if you're gonna eat can trigger the same mental issues as being overworked.

This is the connection between mental health and homelessness that some people may not understand. When you're homeless for long enough you develop health issues that you can't afford to fix and others had them before they are homeless.

Types of Mental Health Issues

It's estimated that between 25 and 50% of the homeless suffer from mental illness, and of those suffering from a mental illness, 20% are suffering from schizophrenia. People suffering from this condition have a risk of becoming homeless because they do not function well in the world, their psychiatric symptoms become worse, or they begin abusing drugs and alcohol.

People suffering from schizophrenia can deal with many issues. Hallucinations, delusions, disorganized speech, lack of motivation, and trouble with thinking are just a few. These symptoms make it difficult for any schizophrenic to become a functioning member of society.

Depression and suicide are problems the homeless also have to manage. 69% of the homeless have said that they have had suicidal thoughts while living on the street, which is higher than the amount of people in the general population with the same thoughts.

Almost half of homeless women meet the standards for a major depressive disorder diagnosis. 47% are suffering with depression, causing them to lose their will to better themselves, and creating these suicidal thoughts. This leads them nowhere and it's the main reason why they remain on the street.

Just like people who suffer from schizophrenia, those who suffer from bipolar disorder also have a risk of becoming homeless. In 2005, the California Public Mental Health System performed a study and found that 15% of people suffering from bipolar disorder were homeless at least once during a one-year study.

Overall, an estimated 11.4% of the homeless are affected by bipolar disorder. These individuals have a higher risk of staying homeless due to their issues.

Because of the problems the mentally ill have to face, they are more susceptible to the issue of homelessness. Not being able to fit in to our society or being comfortable doing a job is making it more likely that they will struggle.

How to Help

If you have someone in your family, or that you know, suffering from a mental illness or that is homeless do what you can to learn about. If they need to see a doctor, offer to take them so that they can get the right medication. Maybe they need therapy for their condition. Research therapists that specialize in the conditions that your loved one might be suffering from.

Remember that you cannot force someone to get help but you can try your best to guide them. Some may need help and don't realize it, which is where you come in with subtle little clues like “I just read this article. Isn't it interesting”.

When someone agrees that they need help, the first thing you should do is create a plan. Your plan should include contact information for the police, hospitals, treatment centers, and crisis lines. If you know how to calm someone down such as playing certain song or reading to them, make sure to put that in your plan as well. The best thing you could do is be prepared, because you do not know what will happen. It's always better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

After you put your plan together, get the support your friend or family needs. Scared to go along? Go with them. Start small by sitting down with them individually and talking to them about their issue. The next step could be bringing the family in and having a discussion with your family.

Support groups are a great way for the person with the issue to get things off their chest about what's bothering them, but also for them to learn from others going through similar situations. Talking to a therapist will also help because the therapist will know of techniques that this person can try to manage their condition.

Final thoughts

It's never someone's fault that they developed a mental illness or that they became homeless. These people have been hit with some troubling times in their lives and need a little help. Everyone reaches a point like this.

These issues can be severe and lead to serious problems, but everything can be managed if the individual realizes that they need help, they create a plan to get help, and they execute that plan. It won't be easy, which is why most people don't do something, but in the end you will be glad that you made a decision to better your life.


Nicholas McKenna

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Nicholas McKenna
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