Homelessness and mental health have a complicated relationship, as it is challenging to point out which affects which. An individual who experiences mental illness may find themselves in homelessness because they are unable to maintain a stable job due to cognitive and behavioral problems. On the other hand, individuals experiencing homelessness may exacerbate any existing mental health problems because of the potential trauma or distress they face.
In 2019, it was found that in the U.S., about 45% of individuals experiencing homelessness had some mental illness, while only 4.2% of adults in the general population had a chronic mental illness.
What accounts for these differences, and why do those in homelessness not receive the proper care they need?
People who experience homelessness are a vulnerable population when it comes to media coverage. They are typically stereotyped, and false information surrounding their stories and the causes of homelessness are spread. Inaccurate information about those experiencing homelessness and mental illness often blames the individuals themselves, which may, in turn, decrease public support for solutions.
Aside from the lack of public support due to such media coverage, people experiencing homelessness face the significant barrier of living in poverty. Living in poverty negatively impacts the mental health of those in homelessness because they are constantly struggling to pay bills and afford basic needs such as food and housing. Without the financial means and resources to afford healthcare, such as insurance, individuals do not have access to mental health treatment. Also, people experiencing homelessness often do not have the connections and networks to help them guide the healthcare system, so they face challenges outside of the financial factors when looking for mental health treatment.
Due to the lack of individuals experiencing homelessness who receive mental health treatment, many health care providers may not have enough knowledge or information about caring for and catering to the wide variety of people in homelessness experiencing complicated mental illnesses.
What happens when people do not receive proper treatment for their mental health?
Mental illnesses that are left untreated, in addition to substance abuse or addiction problems, perpetuate homelessness because they continue to make it difficult for people to carry out their daily activities and transition back into society where they will have to maintain employment and housing.
In addition to providing individuals experiencing homelessness with necessities such as food and shelter, we must educate people about homelessness and mental health to move forward and ensure proper treatment and care.