This is an extract from a Metro.co.uk article that our founder Eleanor wrote and researched on rough sleeping, homelessness and mental health issues. To read the full article click here: http://metro.co.uk/2018/04/10/homelessness-and-mental-health-whats-being-done-to-help-7421391/
The ‘Beast from the East’ put homelessness under the spotlight in February and March as rough sleepers faced freezing conditions. But a more persistent problem among homeless people, which is little talked about, is the prevalence of mental health issues. As someone with bipolar disorder, who has never been homeless, I wanted to investigate what support there is out there for homeless people with mental health conditions.
Anyone can be affected by homelessness, regardless of age, race or sex. Among homeless people, 44% have been diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to Homeless Link. Homeless link points out that homelessness is a stressful, lonely, traumatic experience, which has a major impact on mental health.
In summarising some of its research into homelessness and mental health, Crisis says: ‘Serious mental health issues, such as schizophrenia, bipolar and post traumatic stress disorder are more common among homeless people. ‘Suicide rates are nine times higher, demonstrating the very real need of effective support’
Homeless people with mental health issues, particularly rough sleepers, often have less access to mental health professionals due to their lack of address or their complex needs. Being homeless is extremely overwhelming. Treatment may be the last thing on the mind of a homeless person with a mental health condition when they are focused on finding a way to get food and a place to sleep. The prevalence of drug and alcohol addictions is an added problem.
According to Crisis: ‘Homeless people are more vulnerable to alcohol and drug use. ‘Multiple diagnosis of substance and mental health issues can be a barrier. Rates of alcohol and drug use are four times higher than in the general population.’
Understandably, addiction can get worse when someone is homeless, due to the stress. St Mungo’s is charity that has conducted research into this area and affected change in legislation. Its investigation ‘Stop the Scandal’, looks at mental health and rough sleeping. The charity called for a national strategy to end rough sleeping and changes to the law.
Following St Mungo’s campaign, in 2017 the government backed the Homelessness Reduction Act. This legislation, which came into force on 3 April, is designed to prevent people becoming homeless and to give councils more power to tackle the issue. The government also committed to halve rough sleeping by 2022.
St Mungo’s is leading the way on this. It said: ‘Our experience is that homeless people are treated poorly and often labelled and judged. ‘People see drink or drugs behind rough sleeping, but rarely think about mental health. ‘Mental ill-health can affect anyone, but people sleeping rough face adverse weather conditions, fear and isolation’.