By Tanisha Shelton
Mental health is a serious topic in the world these days as more Americans than ever before are suffering from mental and emotional stress (MacMillan, 2017). One population of people lacking recognition and treatment for those disorders are people experiencing homelessness – a group that is often overlooked by those with stable housing and basic necessities. Due to the trauma of homelessness, coupled with the lack of accessible mental health resources, people experiencing homelessness are at increased risk of experiencing mental health issues, thereby putting them at increased risk for suicide.
To begin with, people who make up the homeless population in the world are more at risk of hurting themselves and committing suicide than people who have a stable place to live. Patten (2017) writes about a study conducted on homelessness in Canada that “1.8% of people dying by suicide were homeless, a large number given that only about 0.2% of the Toronto population is homeless at a point in time” (p. 440). A disproportionate number of people experiencing homelessness are hurting themselves and taking their own lives due to the trauma that comes from the event of being homeless.
When a person is experiencing homelessness, not only do they have nowhere to live, often times, they also may experience food insecurity and may have to be on the lookout for danger if they are living outside on the streets. This type of trauma in turn, causes a lot of physical and emotional stress on a person who is experiencing homelessness, which can then lead to trauma and, ultimately, a mental disorder. The problem is most people experiencing homelessness don’t have access to medical treatment, mainly due to the fact that they are too busy trying to survive without having access to stable housing. Therefore, a large majority of them often go undiagnosed with mental conditions, which can increase their risk of committing suicide.
Age also has an effect on the suicide rates of people experiencing homelesssness. Patten (2017) writes that “homeless people dying by suicide were younger [and more likely to be male] than nonhomeless people dying by suicide” (p. 440). Most of the people who commit suicide due to homelessness are young people. Youth experiencing homelessness may not have a solid safety net or a good support system to turn to when they are struggling with trauma, mental health issues, or experiencing homelessness. Having astable home, friends, and other relatives they can talk to and get emotional support from helps youth to better cope with these difficulties. Experiencing homelessness is a traumatic and difficult experience for anyone, but especially for youth who are still learning, growing, and figuring out where they fit in the world.
Mental health is a big problem for a lot of people around the world. However, it is an even bigger problem for people who are experiencing homelessness. It is very important to keep in mind the negative impact that homelessness can have on a person’s mental wellbeing. There are so many factors that can trigger a person experiencing homelessness to become suicidal, so it’s really important to get them the help and treatment that they may need and deserve for their mental health. If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.
MacMillan, A. (2017, April 18). Mental illness is on the rise in the U.S. for a Frustrating Reason. Health. Mental Illness Is On the Rise in the U.S. for a Frustrating Reason | Health.com
Patten, S. B. (2017). Homelessness and mental health. The Canadian Journal of Psychiatry/La Revue Canadienne de Psychiatrie, 62(7), 440-441. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/0706743717711423