Mental Illness and Homelessness

There is a clear link between psychiatric disorders and homelessness. Homelessness has been linked to poor mental health and may trigger or exacerbate certain mental disorders. Furthermore, mental illness has been identified as a risk factor for homelessness. There are two ends to this issue – how mental illness can contribute to homelessness, and how homelessness can trigger mental illness. 

In most cases, mental illness precedes homelessness. There has been relatively little research on the links between financial strain, homelessness, and psychiatric disorders overall. But, a 2021 study found that there is a direct effect of severe mental illness on those who experience homelessness. This is not surprising, as people with mental illness can have difficulty sustaining stable housing and employment, which can result in homelessness.

Some of the most common mental illnesses among the homeless are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, and schizophrenia. These illnesses can all contribute to an inability to perform tasks and a disruption in one’s cognitive and/or behavioral processes, which can ultimately result in one’s inability to maintain stable housing and employment. Moreover, those experiencing mental illness are subject to lower employment rates due to the stigma of their conditions and employers deeming that they are less suitable for employment.

Mental illness does not always result in homelessness. Also, it is important to note that just because someone who is experiencing homelessness happens to be mentally ill, this does not mean the mental illness preceded and/or is the cause of their situation. Among many of those with mental illnesses who are experiencing homelessness, there are many who became mentally ill as a result of becoming homeless.

The way that homelessness can trigger mental illness is not talked about enough – neither within society nor in scholarly publications or journals. Those experiencing homelessness are likely to encounter extreme amounts of stress, violence, trauma, and social exclusions, all of which can contribute to the hindering of one’s mental health. A study has shown that depression, suicidal thoughts, trauma, and substance abuse are far more prevalent in homeless communities than in the general public. Despite this direct relationship between homelessness and mental illness, society tends to ‘blame the victim’ for their situation more generally. Moreover, the stress of homelessness can exacerbate previous mental illnesses and trigger new ones like anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness, and substance abuse. This topic is not very well researched, however, and it is important that more research is done in the area in an effort to solve the problem.


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