Understanding the Mental Health of Homeless People

Understanding the Mental Health of Homeless People

Homeless people

Globally, homelessness is a significant social and public health issue. Certain mental health conditions may arise from homelessness, or vice versa, due to a variety of individual and systemic reasons. The phrase “houseless population” is used in the Census of India to refer to persons who “do not live in census houses”—that is, a house with a roof—instead choosing to live in public areas like sidewalks, beneath flyovers and stairwells, train platforms, or places of worship. Poor mental health is exacerbated by homelessness. The stress of being homeless can aggravate pre-existing mental health conditions and promote substance abuse, anxiety, terror, and insomnia.

Homeless individuals with mental disorders have similar requirements to those without mental illnesses: inexpensive housing, affordable medical and dental care, education, transit, and physical protection. To provide care for those who are homeless, it is critical to establish a safe, encouraging environment, attend to their basic needs (such as food and shelter), and offer accessible care.


Individuals who suffer from mental illness tend to be homeless for longer periods and interact with friends and family less, frequently. Generally speaking, between 30 and 40 percent of homeless people suffer from a mental illness (in one international survey of wealthy nations, this number increased to 75 percent and included substance use problems). According to 2009 data from Canada, 20–25% of those who are homeless also have co-occurring conditions (addictions and serious mental illness). There were 449,761 such houses or families in India as per the 2011 census. Policymakers and scholars in India have not given this community the attention it deserves, partly because of a lack of trustworthy data.

Also Read: Does mental illness affect economic development? 

There is a two to three times higher likelihood that an individual with a history of homelessness will report having poor mental health. Since they are frequently released from hospitals and jails without the necessary community support in place, people with serious mental illnesses are disproportionately represented among those who are homeless.

Prevalence of Mental Illness among Homeless

The diagnosis of mental illness was lowest in the group of “stable homeless, with friends or family” (61%) and highest in the group of “chronic instability, homeless” (78%). All groups showed moderate levels of serious psychological discomfort, although those in more precarious arrangements—such as the “chronic instability, homeless” group—showed the highest levels of distress (62%).

Of course, it’s important to emphasize the following factors about how common mental health problems are among the homeless population:
  1. Elevated Rates: When compared to the general population, homeless people are found to have abnormally high rates of mental health issues.
  2. Homeless people commonly experience mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and substance use disorder, as these conditions significantly impact them.
  3. Various Disorders: Mental illness is not limited to a single factor or source. There are a variety of factors such as Trauma, violence, isolation, Poverty, and lack of access to health care by which homeless people are affected.
  4. Contributing factors: Mental illness and homelessness have a vice-versa relationship. There could be issues when mental illness can contribute to homelessness or due to the deprivation of home, mental illness can occur.
  5. Obstacles to Treatment: Due to lack of access to healthcare, lack of insurance, or other things that act as barriers for homeless people as an obstacle to treatment.
  6. Impact on Well-Being: Untreated mental health conditions can have a major negative influence on a homeless person’s general well-being and quality of life, making them more vulnerable and making it more difficult for them to leave homelessness.
Other Factors
  1. Importance of Supportive Services: In order to effectively help homeless people and ease their transition to stability, housing, and recovery, it is imperative that mental health issues are addressed.
  2. Holistic programs: To effectively address the multifaceted needs of homeless people with mental illness, comprehensive and integrated programs that incorporate social support, housing aid, drug misuse treatment, and mental health services are necessary.
  3. To improve access to mental health services for homeless people, we need to support policy and funding, as well as engage in advocacy. Advocacy also plays a role in reducing stigma.
  4. Collaboration is essential for finding effective solutions to mental health problems among homeless people. This includes working with government agencies, healthcare providers, non-profit Organizations, and community groups.

The Impact of Homelessness on Mental Health and Vice Versa

There is evidence to support the theory that stress in the environment, including stress from homelessness or unstable housing, can cause mental illness. According to an analysis of the Journeys Home survey conducted for the AHURI-Mind Australia Trajectories research project, people who were homeless prior to the onset of a mental illness experienced the illness at a significantly older age and on average nine years after becoming homeless, compared to people whose mental illness was present prior to homelessness or the general population.

Also Read: The Importance of Dignity in Life

Homelessness is both a cause and an effect of poor mental health. For instance, a succession of circumstances may lead a person to become homeless, possibly triggered by the development of mental illness. In addition, homelessness and unstable housing can aggravate or even create mental health issues. This indicates that, in comparison to the overall population, those without a home have a higher risk of mental health issues.

How Does It Affect?

A mental health diagnosis has been made for 45% of those who are homeless. This equates to 8 out of 10 persons who are homeless. Additionally, according to Trajectories study, those who live in private rentals or who cannot afford housing are typically the ones who are most at risk of mental illness under unfavorable situations. Researchers have discovered that when housing became unaffordable, low-to-moderate-income households experienced worsening mental health and social functioning.

Treatments that can improve housing affordability (e.g., increasing household income, lowering housing costs) are likely to be the most effective for low-income groups and could reduce disparities in mental health.

Households in the bottom 40% of the income bracket appeared to experience a decline in mental health. According to the Journeys Home survey, those who had mental illness before becoming homeless typically developed it throughout their teenage and early adult years, and it took a long time—eight years on average—for them to become homeless for the first time.

Housing issues can be made worse by social isolation brought on by mental illness since it restricts access to both financial and emotional help. A tenant’s ability to keep the house a healthy place to live can be hampered by poor physical health, which is a common sign of mental illness.

Strategies Aimed At Addressing Mental Health Needs

1) Early Intervention:

The best way to prevent the illness from turning into a mental health disorder in homeless people is to intervene as early as possible. The benefit of early intervention is that we can detect the problem allow us to treat patients appropriately and also stop mental health concerns from getting worse. Programs designed to meet the needs and conditions of homeless people and families may achieve greater success.

2) Integrated Care:

Creating integrated care models that incorporate treatment for substance misuse, medical attention, housing assistance, and other necessary services with mental health services. The objective is to address the diverse needs of homeless people comprehensively, recognizing that they often encounter other difficulties linked to mental health issues.

Also Read: The Psychology behind Comparisons

3) Mental Health Care Accessibility:

Increasing the number of mental health professionals who work with homeless populations and offering more outreach and engagement programs are two ways to increase access to mental health care.

4) Stabilizing Housing:

We should prioritize providing secure housing, as it is a vital component of mental health therapy and rehabilitation. The main goal is to help homeless people a home and to make sure that they have a secure place to live. This idea also contributes to managing good mental health.

5) Taking care of trauma:

Trauma can severely affect the individual’s mental health. Being homeless, the individual and their families might have gone through a phase that would be traumatic. Minimizing the effects of traumatic events and promoting better mental health requires giving proper care.

6) Reducing Relapse and Recidivism:

Coming out from poverty or the condition of homelessness provides a feeling of self-worth. But what would happen if individuals again have to face homelessness? We are taking better measures to reduce the likelihood of the person becoming homeless again. The goal here is to ensure people get the house and mental health stability by providing ongoing support.

7) Promoting Recovery-Oriented Care:

Promoting a recovery-oriented approach to mental health care that places an emphasis on hope, empowerment, and self-determination. Encouraging individuals experiencing homelessness to actively participate in their recovery and set meaningful goals for their lives.

8) Increase funding for mental health services:

Homeless individuals and their families can get the accessibility to care and a better improved quality of life by increasing the funding system for mental health services.

Also Read: Mental Health Awareness in Rural Areas

9) Community Integration:

Providing homeless persons with access to social, economic, and educational opportunities in order to encourage them to integrate into the greater community. Reducing the stigma associated with homelessness and mental illness is an essential component of this goal.

The goals mentioned above, work together to provide a better place for the homeless people or the individual who gets homeless due to mental illness by providing a holistic approach to care for and support the homelessness’s mental health issues, thereby improving their quality of life, reducing homelessness, and increasing community engagement. By tackling the mental health issues that this population faces, we can create a more just and better society where everyone has the chance to succeed.

  • Bbrfoundation.org
  • Crisis.org.uk
  • https://bmchealthservres.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1472-6963-12-222

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