Imagine Health

Psychological Impact of Homelessness

Homelessness is a very serious issue today, it is almost everywhere.  The effects of homelessness on homeless people is large. People are homeless for many different reasons for example poverty, unemployment and many more. Homeless people suffer high levels of stress from their lack of control over their housing situation, combined with high levels of poverty and often poor living conditions. To make matters worse, many homeless people carry with them the distressing experiences they have suffered which led to their homelessness in the first place, such as domestic violence, relationship breakdown, drug and alcohol misuse and mental health problems.

Effects on Physical and Mental Health

Many factors damage the health of people sleeping rough:

  • Cold, hunger and fear experienced by people sleeping rough disrupts their sleep which in turn damages both mental and physical health.
  • Homeless people often have problems with drugs or alcohol, made worse through being on the street.
  • Homelessness is isolating. Many people become homeless because of the loss of a loved one or a relationship breakdown.
  • Homelessness is depressing. Rates of depression and suicide among homeless people are much higher than in the general population. According to the Canadian Population Health initiative up to 61% of homeless adults experience suicidal thoughts.

Mental health issues can be a reason for people becoming homeless in the first place. While the experience of being homeless can affect a person’s mental health deteriorating the longer the person remains homeless. Being homeless can encourage and amplify anxiety, fear, depression, sleeplessness and substance use. Therefore, homelessness and mental illness sadly have lots in common. They both play a large role in each other’s progression meaning that they will both get worse with time for the individual suffering both.

Dublin Simon’s Health snapshot for 2013, showed that 71% of its clients had diagnosed mental health difficulty, of which 22% had a diagnosis of psychosis or schizophrenia. It is clear from research that severe mental health difficulties are more prevalent among homeless people than the general public.  Most of the homeless population have suffered some form of trauma in their past, often in their childhood. This can leads to maladaptive coping, in terms of using drinks and drugs and the display of aggressive behaviours. Most of us who’ve had a safe and loving upbringing acquire the vocabulary to articulate our thoughts and feelings. Thus developing the skills to regulate our own emotions. By contrast, people with an abusive background turn to external ways of dealing with their emotions, including drink, drugs and self-harm.

Written by Rebekka Johnston