Homelessness is a persistent problem in urban communities. Homelessness can affect a large variety of people, one of those groups being individuals who struggle with mental health problems. Studies of the homeless population have reported that one-fourth to one-third of the homeless population has been diagnosed with some form of mental health problem. (Prevalence). The majority of these mental health issues being, bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia (Prevalence). These disorders can seriously hinder the daily activities of living for individuals with mental health issues. Many of those who struggle with mental illness have difficulties maintaining self-care and stable relationships (National Coalition for the Homeless). This often causes family, friends and caretakers to distant themselves from those with mental health issues National Coalition for the Homeless). The absence of care and support ultimately, leads to those who struggle with mental illness to either go to a psychiatric hospital or to the streets (National Coalition for the Homeless).
Homelessness of the mentally ill emerged as an issue due to the deinstitutionalization of psychiatric patients. Until the 1960s the majority of people with mental illness were treated at public psychiatric hospitals (psychiatric). In the 1960’s, 563,000 beds were in the United States psychiatric hospitals (psychiatric). By the 1990s this the number of beds then, dropped to 98,000(psychiatric). Reasons for this sudden decline in hospital beds were, the production and use of psychiatric medications become widely popular (psychiatric). These medications made the most severe mental illness manageable. Therefore, the demand for patients to be admitted to the hospitals decreased. Another reason for the decline in hospitals beds is the dramatic change in the policies for those institutionalized(psychiatric). Before, a patient could be admitted to an institution involuntary by a family member (psychiatric).
The policy shifted to stricter requirements for involuntary admission to a psychiatric institution(psychiatric). Following the decline, significant defunding and budget cuts of mental health services were implemented (psychiatric). These reasons lead to thousands of psychiatric patients being discharged from state hospitals and then let back into their community (psychiatric). Without the safety net of the hospital giving regular care and support of family, many individuals with mental health issues had no choice but to turn to the streets to live. This resulted in an increased number of homelessness (psychiatric). As well as an increase in the number of arrests in this population.
The unmanageable or troublesome behavior that some people with mental health issues face often cause them to be arrested. The high number of the mental ill homeless that has been arrested has prompted the criminalization of homelessness particularly that of, the mentally ill homeless population (psychiatric). Characteristics of the mentally ill often are erratic or disturbing behaviors. With limited treatment options for the mentally ill the criminal justice system is left with no option but to arrest the mentally ill (psychiatric). One study showed that individuals that struggled with mental health problems were more likely to be suspected of a crime than their counterparts (psychiatric). Another reason why homelessness is criminalized because of the correlation between mental illness and violent (psychiatric). A sample taken from a jail showed that up to 20% of inmates met the criteria to be diagnosed with a severe mental disorder (psychiatric). Through this, connection can be made between the homeless mentally ill and high numbers of incarceration (psychiatric).
Despite the criminalization the mentally ill homeless individuals, the population for the mentally ill experience a high number of victimization. Life living on the streets and in homeless shelters can expose the homeless population to physical violent and abuse. Several studies examining victimization among the homeless population, found that homeless individuals with a mental illness experience high level of victimization, compared to those housed individuals (roy). One study found that prevalence of violent among the mentally ill homeless between 4.3% and 35% (roy). For non-violent victimization between 7.7% to 28% (roy). These rates are especially high for women, particularly that of women who have a history of trauma (roy).
Due to the high number of victimization, many homeless individuals have to develop coping skills to survive such as hypersensitivity to their surroundings and paranoia (Front Desk). Constantly using these coping mechanisms can result triggering or furthering mental health issues (Front desk). This could possibly be a cause to mental illness among the homeless population. Ultimately, the quality of life of mentally ill homeless individual is considerably low.
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