Introducing a new blogger to Reach Out Pro: Emma Thompson,
Psychologist, works with young people including those who are
experiencing homelessness. She talks about the connection
between youth homelessness and mental health in this
No matter what you thought of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd,
he got one thing right.
When Rudd described
homelessness as a "national obscenity" he turned on the light in a
dark room that many ordinary Australians would prefer to pretend
did not exist, and people started to take notice.
Yet there is still a long
way to go. On any given night roughly 105,000 Australians are
homeless and nearly half are under the age of 25. The current
agenda has a strong focus on rough sleeping, what many homeless
people refer to as "being on the streets". Yet young people have
been referred to as the invisible homeless: whilst many will be
forced to sleep
rough, a large number are
"couch surfing", sleeping in whatever housing they can get, often
in highly unsafe environments where they are exposed to violence,
drug use and criminal behaviour.
Homeless young people are four times more likely to display poor
mental wellbeing than their securely housed counterparts, in one
recent study (Johnson, Gronda & Coutts, 2008) almost 80% of
participants developed mental health problems after being made
Many young people present with comorbid mental health and
substance use problems, Johnson et al are right when they say
"Homelessness is bad for young people"
Levels of depression and
anxiety are inordinately high in homeless young people, exacerbated
by circumstance and their difficulties accessing services due to
the transience that accompanies homelessness.
Homeless young people with a more chronic mental health problem
or severe symptoms find it nearly impossible to secure stable
housing. Due to complex needs they are turned away from service
providers and are left with little or no option.
Seventeen year old Harry is an example. Self harming to try and
deal with overwhelming feelings of anxiety and self-loathing his
symptoms were not deemed severe enough for hospitalisation, yet
service providers were unable to house him due to the risk. Harry
had few options and on several occasions had nowhere to sleep other
than a large industrial bin.
Thankfully Harry's story has a positive ending. With intensive
collaboration between agencies Harry engaged with services and
began reconnecting with his family. Yet there are many others just
like Harry and with a distinct lack of accommodation options for
young people with a mental health problem we still have a long way
So when casting your vote on August 21, spare a thought for
Harry and ask yourself- Who will undertake meaningful action on
youth homelessness and mental health?
References:Johnson, G., Gronda, H. & Coutts, S.
(2008). On the Outside: Pathways in and out ofhomelessness, North
Melbourne, Australian Scholarly Publishing.