About Homeless People With Mental Illness

About Homeless People With Mental Illness

By Kimberly Ripley, eHow Contributor

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Homelessness reached epidemic proportions in the United States many years ago. It is estimated that up to 16 percent of homeless people suffer from some type of mental illness.

About Homeless People With Mental Illness About Homeless People With Mental Illness (The homeless rate in the United States continues to grow.)

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Homelessness has only been at epidemic proportions for the past few decades, although homelessness has almost always existed. During the Great Depression, homeless people were often referred to as bums or vagabonds. In the 1950s and 1960s, many mental institutions across the United States shut down, sending an unfathomable number of mentally ill patients onto the streets. Often those with no family or friends wound up homeless. While today's homeless population doesn't stem from this original throng of mentally ill homeless people, a good percentage of today's homeless suffer from mental illness.

Homeless people often resort to begging for food. Considerations

The more common types of mental illness among the homeless are severe depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Depression is sometimes a result of drug or alcohol abuse that remained untreated. Bipolar disorder causes people to experience extreme highs (mania) or deep lows (depression). If left untreated, these mood swings become even more erratic and severe. Schizophrenia causes people to hallucinate or hear things. People suffering from schizophrenia often hear voices telling them they are worthless and don't deserve treatment. This is one reason many mentally ill homeless people remain untreated and on the streets. In addition, many suffering from schizophrenia believe that someone or some organization is out to get them. They believe that those out to get them are part of a conspiracy, and they often distrust everyone they meet. Without treatment, these people become even more isolated from society. Due to misperceptions of social workers and organizations providing services, many mentally ill homeless people refuse any kind of treatment for their mental illnesses.

Homeless people with mental illness often refuse to be treated due to fear.


When people refuse treatment for mental illness, their symptoms tend to get worse. In addition to becoming more isolated, many people display odd symptoms like talking to themselves or scratching imaginary itches, thus prompting them to become even more isolated from society. Sadly, many of these homeless people suffered from their mental illnesses before becoming homeless. Due to lack of treatment or refusal of treatment, they wound up out of jobs and alienated from family and friends. As the mental illness remains untreated on the street, most symptoms are exacerbated.

Many homeless war veterans suffer from mental illness. Considerations

Many war veterans return home from foreign wars and find they can't function in society as they once knew it. Typically this means they are suffering from mental illness--usually a form of post-traumatic stress disorder. If left untreated, they often wind up homeless. While veterans are entitled to some benefits upon leaving the armed services, they are often overlooked and undertreated. Most of the veterans hospitals and clinics are underfunded and understaffed, resulting in a lack of proper treatment for many veterans.

This scene has become all too common in many cities. Misconceptions

Not all homeless people with mental illness need to be living on the streets. Oftentimes when mental illness goes undetected, and hence untreated, people leave secure family settings for a life of poverty and homelessness. If the illness was recognized and treated with both medicine and therapy, the state of homelessness might have been avoided. By the time family members find their mentally ill and homeless loved ones, they often refuse treatment or offers of other types of help.

Hunger and homelessness frequently go hand in hand. Potential

Some mentally ill homeless people are treated and effectively find their way back into society, but only with the benefit of skilled social workers, counselors and treatment centers designed to help those who cannot pay. These places and people are few and far between. Most homeless people suffering from mental illness endure a life of slipping through the proverbial cracks. Many don't live normal lifespans, instead dying at younger ages of hypothermia, starvation or as a result of their mental illnesses.

The plight of the homeless in America has reached epidemic proportions.


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