There are many people who are mentally ill and homeless at the same time. This unique challenge of life makes it nearly impossible to change one’s circumstances when this occurs. People might tell them to “Get a job,” but until the mental illness is effectively treated and controlled, that is an unlikely proposition at best.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, up to 25% of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness.
Mentally Ill Homeless
This is comparison to the 6% of the general population that is suffering from some form of a mental illness at any given time. Not only is a mental illness devastating to those who are suffering from it, but in some cases, the illness is the primary reason why a person or a family has become homeless in the first place.
- For homeless families, mental illness was mentioned by 12% of American cities as one of the top 3 causes of homelessness.
- In a California study, 15% of people with diagnosed schizophrenia were homeless at least once in the last 12 months.
- For single adults, mental illness was one of the top 3 causes of homelessness in 48% of American cities.
- 20% of cities listed better coordination with mental health service providers as one of the top three items needed to combat homelessness.
- At any given time, it is believed that 250,000 people within the current homeless demographic have at least one mental illness present, even if it has not been diagnosed.
- The percentage of homeless people with a mental illness who are described as being chronically homeless: 25%.
- At any given time, there are many more people with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses living on America’s streets than are receiving care in hospitals.
From an American perspective, the philosophies of Ayn Rand and capitalism are very much apparent in how mental health issues are treated with the homeless. Because these people are seen as a detriment to society instead of a benefit, many do their best to ignore the needs that these people have. Many do not have money, so they never seek treatment. Many have held down jobs in the past until their mental illness got a firm, cold grip on their lives. How we are judged is in the way that we are willing to treat the least of these that live amongst us. By building up these population demographic, we build ourselves up. Unfortunately far too often we’re more willing to tear ourselves down.
Mental Health Issues Are Increasing On The Streets
- The homeless population, especially homeless persons with serious mental illness, has increased steadily since the 1970s.
- In Roanoke, Virginia, the homeless population increased 363% between 1987 and 2007 and 70% of those who were homeless had at least one mental health treatment in the past.
- In an Ohio study on mental health patients, 36% of the discharges from state mental hospitals had become homeless within 6 months of the discharge date.
- A 2001 study examined 5,000 homeless people with mental illnesses in New York City and found that this demographic cost taxpayers an average of $40,500 a year for their use of emergency rooms, psychiatric hospitals, shelters, and prisons.
- People with a mental illness are 3x more likely to use a garbage can as their primary source of food on a daily basis.
- In a series of interviews of homeless men in NYC, 12% were discovered to fit the clinical definition of being psychotic and this demographic was the most likely to have been threatened or injured by an assault.
- A 1995 study of the incidence of rape among women with schizophrenia reported that 1 in 5 women were victims. 67% of women in this group had evidence of having been raped multiple times.
- Up to 19% of the victims of rape who are homeless and have a mental illness have also been tested to be found HIV positive.
- Those with a mental illness and have chronic homelessness have a 2.4x greater mortality rate than people who are homeless without a mental illness.
American society in particular has created a pseudo-caste system where certain people have become untouchable. Those untouchables are those that have a mental illness and are homeless. They’re untouchable, of course, unless they can provide a specific advantage to someone. That’s why multiple rapes are common, muggings happen to those who actually do receive cash benefits regularly, and assaults occur. In San Francisco, it has become so difficult for the homeless that some women are wearing up to a dozen pairs of pantyhose at the same time just so they have an extra layer of defense against a rape. When some women report 17 different men attempting to rape them, who can blame the homeless for taking action?
Why Can’t The Homeless Find The Treatment They Need?
- Most of the homeless who are mentally ill have anosognosia and are not aware that they are sick.
- We have a legal need to protect the right of the mentally ill homeless to remain sick if that is what they wish.
- 47% of homeless women meet the criteria for a diagnosis of major depressive disorder, which is twice the rate of women in the general population.
- Poor physical health is associated with poverty in general but seems to be more pronounced among those who are without home.
- Age, gender, and ethnicity are linked to such HIV/AIDS risk behaviors as injection drug use and high-risk sexual practices.
- For 20 years, some have argued that although substance abuse and mental illness contribute to homelessness, the primary cause is the lack of low-income housing.
In practical terms, if we’re already spending about $40,000 per person who is homeless to treat their needs, then couldn’t we put some of that money toward affordable housing for them? So what if they do not have the ability to pay rent or upkeep? Repetitive studies have shown that when a person has a home, their health risks are reduced. It may cost a little upfront, but in practical terms, we could save money by investing in low-income housing and reduce the homeless population. That’s something every community should consider.
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