This week is Homelessness and Hunger Awareness Week. Mental health is an essential component of your overall life experience. It impacts all domains of life including physical, spiritual, vocational, and relational. One area of life where a person’s mental health has a big impact is in housing. Surveys indicate that close to half of people who are homeless have a mental health diagnosis. Often depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress can underlie the series of life occurrences that lead a person to homelessness. I would encourage all of us to think of the ways in which we can help those experiencing housing insecurity.
At any given time our area has dozens of individuals or families who are homeless. Usually there is a series of unfortunate events that leads up to a person or family being without a home. At least half of the time mental health issues are a factor. Depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder affect people in such a way that their livelihood is impacted. The needs of people experiencing homelessness are the same as all of us, physical safety, education, transportation, affordable housing, and affordable medical/dental treatment.
There is a connection between homelessness and a person experiencing mental health issues. Peter Tarr, writing for the Brain and Behavior Foundation1 says, most researchers agree that the connection between homelessness and mental illness is a complicated, two-way relationship. An individual’s mental illness may lead to cognitive and behavioral issues that make it difficult to earn a stable income or to carry out daily activities in ways that enable stable housing.
The Canadian Observatory on Homelessness2 says People with mental health conditions are more susceptible to the three main factors that can lead to homelessness: poverty, disaffiliation, and personal vulnerability. Because they often lack the capacity to sustain employment, they have little income. Their thinking may lead them to withdraw from friends, family and other people. This loss of support leaves them fewer coping resources in times of trouble. The ability to be resilient and resourceful is often compromised.
To help, it is essential to create a non-threatening and supportive atmosphere, address basic needs (e.g. food and shelter), and provide accessible care. I would encourage all of you to consider how we can make a difference in the life of someone who is experiencing housing insecurity. Listen non-judgmentally and be a difference maker for someone who needs your help. Be a supporter of services to those experiencing housing insecurity and homelessness. Donate your time, skills, and other resources to lift another up. This will make a big difference in your and the other’s life and make your community a better place.
-Jerry Strausbaugh, EdD, LPCC-S, Executive Director, Appleseed Community Mental Health Center