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Mental Illness and Substance Abuse a Recipe for Homelessness

July 18, 2017 Articles
symptoms of psychosis

There was a time when homelessness was thought of as the domain of people who had given up on life and preferred to sleep on the beaches of Venice ― or the streets of any city ― than take part in normal society.  The homeless were seen “old drunks” or “beggars.” People just stepped over them as they went on their way in life.

But today’s homeless population is made up of a more diverse group of people ― from runaways and recent veterans, to older adults and young adults who’ve hit very difficult times. The common thread is they typically do not have the financial resources to help themselves or the mental capacity or, in some cases, maturity to navigate to a healthier situation.

The situation is made even more difficult by substance addiction.

Life Unravels

Severe mental illness and addiction unto themselves, left untreated, can create a great deal of havoc in the lives of individuals and families.  Any number of things can happen to make self-care almost impossible to maintain. It can lead people to feel hopeless and lost.

Over a period of time, a life falls apart. There may be a loss of job or inability to attain or maintain an income. This may be followed by loss or displacement from a residence. Some individuals dissociate from their family, and any semblance of the life they were living, and isolate completely.

Dwindling connections to other people and society make the mental illness and addiction dual diagnose and homelessness difficult to treat. Studies show that people with serious mental health problems are at risk for homeless. When there is also an addiction to drugs or alcohol, it magnifies the problems significantly.

Common Problems

Research also shows that people with a mental illness and addiction dual diagnosis and homelessness share certain common traits.

  • Extreme poverty
  • Isolation from family, friends and other support networks
  • Poor health
  • Underutilization of public entitlements like Medicare and welfare
  • Problems with the law
  • Personal vulnerability
  • History of trauma, such as childhood abuse or neglect

The more time a person spends homeless the harder it will be to change. Poor health will get even worse and they are at risk for a premature death. Without support, it is very difficult for an individual to return to a normal life, unless they can somehow find their way into dual diagnosis treatment.

Is There Hope and Help?

Intervention, as early as possible, is crucial.  One of the challenges is that individuals in this population are more likely to seek care for immediate survival needs — such a shelter in winter or a hot meal — rather than assistance for the problems causing their homelessness. They are often unaware or in denial about poor mental health and substance issues.

It is important that they receive dual diagnosis treatment that assesses and treats all of the problems they are dealing with and the history of trauma and loss that brought them there.

Because of their lack of connection to resources, many homeless people do realize there is professional help for dual diagnosis and homelessness and that they may be eligible for local and government-assisted programs.

Sources

Becoming and Remaining Homeless; A Qualitative Investigation

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/01612840050110290

Prevalence and Risk Factors for Homelessness and Utilization of Mental Health Services

http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/appi.ajp.162.2.370

The epidemiology of alcohol, drug, and mental disorders among homeless persons.

http://psycnet.apa.org/?fa=main.doiLanding&doi=10.1037/0003-066X.46.11.1115

Is Homelessness a Mental Health Problem

http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/doi/abs/10.1176/ajp.141.12.1546

Where Do People Go When They Become Homeless?

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2524.2007.00703.x/full

From Home to Street: Understanding Young People’s Transition to Homelessness

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0140197105000187

Exploring Ethos? Discourses of ‘Charity’ in the Provision of Emergency Services for Homeless People

http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1068/a36189

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