Homelessness remains a problem for many people living in the United States. A large number of people who are homeless are young people and children. The reasons for this are many, but often, children and young people who have experienced maltreatment or abuse at home choose to leave. When they are unable to find a safe and secure place, they become homeless. And although they may have left their homes to escape victimization, being homeless makes them more vulnerable to future victimization.
Another issue facing homeless individuals is mental health. It is evident that mental health problems are high among the homeless population. But it is unclear whether these rates are equally high among homeless youth. Additionally, it is not well known whether mental health problems generally precede homelessness or are exacerbated by homelessness in the younger population of homeless individuals.
Kate J. Hodgson of the School of Psychology at Cardiff University in the UK wanted to determine whether the relationship between mental health problems and homelessness was a reciprocal one in homeless youth. To do so, she examined 46 previous studies and found that mental health challenges were present in the majority of homeless individuals studied. Among the most common psychological issues in homeless youth were ADHD, mania, depression, conduct disorder, PTSD, and suicidal ideation. Hodgson also found high levels of comorbidity, especially with substance misuse and psychological conditions.
When she looked further, Hodgson discovered that psychological issues were both catalysts for and consequences of homelessness. Young people who live on the streets are more likely to be the victims of sexual and physical assaults and are exposed to high rates of violence. This puts them at increased risk for mental health problems. Additionally, many of these young people are themselves abuse survivors and may begin their life on the streets with PTSD, depression, or other issues as a result of the abuse they experienced.
Either way, homelessness clearly has a negative impact on overall mental health for young people. But because these individuals live transient lives and rarely take advantage of support or community outreach services for mental health issues, they often go untreated. Hodgson hopes that her study will underscore the need for tailored treatment designed to address the unique demands of this segment of the population. She added, “Intervention efforts need to be accessible to this underserved population and work around the chaotic nature of their lives and their mental health needs.”
Hodgson, Kate J., B.Sc, et al. (2013). Psychopathology in young people experiencing homelessness: A systematic review. American Journal of Public Health 103.6 (2013): E24-37. ProQuest. Web.
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