Mental Illness vs Homelessness

It’s Thanksgiving and I always have a lot to be thankful for – my partner who stuck by me while I was sick, our families who we put through a lot, and the fact that we have a health care system that enables me to better manage my illness (albeit I sometimes complain that the system is broken). 

One thing my partner and I always quiz ourselves over is how we didn’t end up homeless during it all.  Or at least me.  There was a time I refused to get medicated and turned to alcohol instead. Over a two year period I put tens of thousands of dollars on a line of credit so I could continue to drink and smoke daily. If I would have continued, I would have lost my job, the house – everything. But fortunately, I ran into an altercation with the police which ultimately saved my life.

According to Canadian research (The Homelessness Hub), there are three main reasons someone with mental illness is more likely to become homeless:

  1. Poverty – someone with mental illness is less likely to sustain employment
  2. Disaffiliation – higher tendency to withdraw from family and friends
  3. Personal vulnerability – mental illness can cloud thinking and impair judgment

In essence, someone with mental illness loses their job, withdraws from society and ends up with clouded judgement – a recipe to end up on the streets.

What does that translate into?  The Mental Health Commission of Canada found that the 25%-50% of homelessness population suffers from a mental illness.  The CBC claims 200,000 Canadians experience homelessness annually.  That’s up to 100,000 mentally ill homeless Canadians.  Not only that, but these studies show that the mentally ill homeless population stays homeless longer.

A couple more interesting (and yet not shocking) statistics from the Homelessness Hub when asked of the homeless:

  • 38% did not have a doctor or know where to get care
  • 24% did not have a health card
  • 32% did not have a drug plan when they were prescribed medications for their mental illness

So there we have it.  A vicious cycle – someone with mental illness could end up losing their job and end up on the streets and not being able to afford their medication because they no longer have a drug plan.

I would say if you are reading this, we all have something to be thankful for this weekend.

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