Mental health and homelessness

Mental health and homelessness

Many have encountered someone who is homeless at some point or perhaps know a friend or family member who is homeless. Though people may often make efforts to assist their loved ones or others who are in such a situation, certain stigmas about homelessness still persist, often placing blame on the homeless individual for their current state. This should not be the case though as many of these individuals are dealing with homelessness due to mental illness.

Homelessness, especially in conjunction with mental illness, has been on the rise since the 1970s. This has been true of both major metropolitan areas, as well as smaller towns and cities. In addition, a significant number of those released from state mental hospitals have become homeless within months. Studies have shown that homeless populations have higher rates of hospitalizations for mental illness (American Psychological Association). There are also higher rates for both physical illness and substance abuse among the homeless compared to those who live in a home. These compounded issues are problematic considering that the homeless also often have less access to mental health treatment.

Related findings

Those who do not live in a home have been shown to have a doubled likelihood for mental illness (Shepherd, 2015). For example, homeless women have been shown to have twice the odds of experiencing a major depressive disorder.

Those who are both homeless and mentally ill have been shown to be more likely to turn to a hospital for treatment, as opposed to traditional outpatient care. This may be as a result of not having a home to turn to. However, this in turn causes the standard of patient care to be significantly more costly and disjointed overall.

Dangers and risks

There are clearly a number of risks involved with being homeless, besides the greater likelihood of mental illness and substance abuse. This may include physical conditions or injuries as a result of living outdoors. Many who are homeless have also experienced trauma, perhaps as a result of their living conditions or an unfortunate event that played a role in their current state which may have also lead to the development of Post-traumatic stress disorder.

Another common concern for the homeless is being arrested for loitering, disturbance or being mistreated by police officers who are unaware of their disorder. Crimes such as robberies, beatings and rapes are also more common among the homeless.

While some of the homeless in urban areas have come to be an accepted part of their communities, many live in shelters or abandoned buildings by night, which exposes them to further dangers.


Those without a home may in turn end up in facilities such as shelters, hospitals or on the streets or in jail. However, for those who are dealing with both mental illness and homelessness, the ideal situation is instead the first priority of stable housing and services that offer support. However, this will require support on both a local, county and state level as federal support in itself is not likely to be able to meet such needs.

Member of the public who engage in volunteer work or outreach programs are also a huge help in these efforts as they are able to assist the homeless and mentally ill with options such as emergency housing, blankets and meals. Participants may help the homeless receive the treatment and medication that they need, along with getting them involved in programs such as Narcotics Anonymous for substance abuse. The goal is to help break the cycle that a homeless person with a disorder has found themselves in, so that he or she may begin making progress on the road to recovery.

To learn more about the impact of mental illness and how to find help, you can contact the Florida Mental Health Helpline at any time at 866-846-5588 for speak to a member of our team and get the help you or your loved one needs today.

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