Experiencing a mental health concern, even one that’s manageable most days and only occasionally disruptive or entirely debilitating, can be a remarkable challenge in its own right. But addressing such concerns while being subjected to the unique demands and stresses of homelessness is a prospect that many find themselves unable to successfully tackle. With little to no access to medication, psychotherapy, or other mental health services, homeless people who experience mental health concerns may face a spiral of limitations and lack of opportunities that can keep them in difficult situations for years, if not a lifetime. Recently, a program based in New York City showed some success in developing social assistance programs focusing on providing housing first, and then worked with mental health issues. Based on this fundamental concept, a study in Canada funded by the government has recruited more than 2,000 homeless people with mental health concerns, and will work with them over a period of four years to establish precisely which types of programs and assistance structures are most fruitful.
While some social programs exist to help homeless people secure counseling or other types of services, proponents of the study as well as homeless people themselves note that conducting serious, concentrated work on mental health issues without the security or stability of a place to live is needlessly difficult, and leads to feelings of failure and futility. The Canadian study, which has just begun and is already garnering a fair share of media attention, hopes to show that when the homeless are served with their most basic needs, such as shelter, first, they can enjoy a higher rate of success with mental health treatment.
© Copyright 2009 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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