November 13th-21st is National Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week. Homelessness is on the rise in America, and poverty is inextricably linked to mental illness. Individuals who experience poverty, especially for an extended time or in childhood, are at risk of mental and physical health complications throughout their lives.
Educating ourselves and others is the first step in breaking down the stigma associated with poverty and homelessness and encouraging our community to volunteer and provide resources to those in need.
Statistics reveal there is a lot of work to be done in the US to resolve homelessness. There are over 550,000 people experiencing homelessness in the US right now. So, what needs to happen to reduce this shocking number? Homelessness has risk factors, including mental illness, substance abuse, and lack of resources. These issues are inextricable, as homelessness also can trigger and exacerbate these issues.
Read on to learn more about how homelessness amplifies poor mental health.
What Is Homelessness?
Homeless individuals have different experiences. Generally, homelessness is when an individual or group of individuals does not have a fixed, stable, and safe residence. People with and without shelter can be homeless.
It could look like sleeping on a sofa, in temporary housing, on the streets, or living in places not fit for habitation. However, homelessness goes beyond shelter. It impacts all areas of an individual’s life, including their physical health and mental health.
Homelessness in the US
On a given night, over 550,000 people are experiencing homelessness. This works out at around 17 per 10,000 people of the population. There is a mix of ages, ethnicities, and identities.
Around 30% of people experiencing homelessness in the US are younger than 24 years old. Some people are with family or friends, while other homeless individuals are alone. No matter the age, even a short period of homelessness can have severe consequences for an individual’s physical and mental health.
Causes of Homelessness
Anyone can become houseless. It may only take one significant event, a series of circumstances, or a decline in health to become houseless.
Unemployment is a common cause of homelessness. Without work or a steady stream of income, a person can lose their home. Without a permanent address, it can be tough to find work, which perpetuates the problem.
Lack of affordable housing is another cause of homelessness. Studies have found that many cities are considered unaffordable. The price of housing is often three or more times the average income in the US, which means it is hard for individuals to find a home in a safe or convenient area for work opportunities.
Stagnant wages and poverty, in general, are significant causes of homelessness. The cost of living continues to increase, but wages are not keeping up. Combining this with other risk factors such as racial inequality, domestic violence, family conflict, and homelessness is sadly not surprising.
There are also many systemic failures, such as a lack of affordable healthcare, worsening physical health. When people cannot get the medical assistance they need, then they cannot optimally function. There is also a lack of mental health and substance abuse treatment services, making it hard to break the homelessness cycle.
Homelessness and Mental Health
Homelessness and mental health are interconnected. People may experience mental health conditions like major depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and other mental disorders while being homeless.
It is estimated that around 250,000 people with mental illness are homeless, and 140,000 have severe mental disorders, such as psychosis and major depressive disorders. It means nearly half of all people experiencing homelessness are also experiencing mental health problems.
There are many reasons for this high correlation between mental health difficulties and homelessness. Here are some of the top reasons.
Being without a home is a traumatic experience. Incidents that happen before homelessness occurred and experiences while being houseless can leave a lasting impact. However, homelessness can exacerbate previous mental illness. Often, people experiencing homelessness cannot address trauma or mental health issues because they are focused on survival and do not have adequate resources.
Hunger is also traumatic for the body. Hunger goes hand-in-hand with living in poverty. Parents who are unable to feed their children are at risk for developing depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicidal thoughts. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, mothers of school-aged children who face severe hunger are 56.2% more likely to have PTSD and 53.1% more likely to have severe depression. The American Journal of Preventive Medicine conducted a study which determined that food insecurity was associated with specific psychosocial stressors and overall poorer mental health.
Lack of Medical Resources
Mental health disorders are one of the main risk factors for becoming homeless and staying homeless.
There are not enough affordable psychological treatment support options in the US, meaning, if left untreated- a serious mental illness may worsen, which can put individuals at risk for homelessness. When someone does not have a permanent address, it can be hard to get the medical assistance they need to get better.
When homeless individuals with substance abuse disorders have fewer coping resources that are needed to address addiction and severe mental illness, they may turn to other ways of self-medicating. This can intensify substance abuse problems and other psychiatric disorders leading to psychiatric distress.
A person’s well-being revolves around whether they have the ability to address basic needs. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs states that an individual needs to have basic needs met (food and safety) before anything else. When individuals do not have access to food or shelter, they cannot begin to meet other mental health needs, meaning homelessness can worsen or trigger mental illness. Other needs include exercise, community, safety, and self-esteem.
Unfortunately, homelessness is still misunderstood by the general population, and people experiencing homelessness can often experience low self-esteem as a result. People who are homeless and have mental illness tend to have have more encounters with the police and justice system. They are also much more vulnerable to being a victim of crime.
Although action is being taken to address homelessness in certain states, we have a long way to go, and there is much more to be done . Everyone deserves the right to shelter, safety, and adequate mental and physical health care. It benefits the community, homeless individuals, and the healthcare system alike if ending homelessness becomes a priority to all.
Homelessness perpetuates the mental health crisis that the US and the rest of the world are facing. More needs to be done to understand, support, and advocate for homeless individuals with metal health conditions.
How to Help Homelessness and Mental Health
There are many ways you can help with the homelessness crisis. The first step is to advocate for homeless individuals. Signpost them to help or contribute to an organization that fights homelessness if you are able.
You can also volunteer your time, donate clothes and food, or pick a career pathway in this area. Homelessness could be solved if affordable healthcare and housing became more accessible.
Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) is an alternative mental health treatment. It successfully treats illnesses such as anxiety disorders and major depressive disorders. Contact us today to learn more.