Essay on Mental Health and Homelessness

Published: 2022/01/11
Number of words: 991

Mental health and homelessness are two issues that are intricately linked. This essay will discuss mental health issues and the homeless population, and will draw conclusions about the relationship between mental health and homelessness. This essay will also draw on statistics regarding mental healthcare and homelessness, and explain the impact of closing institutions for the insane.

Mental health is a serious issue in America and around the world. A study by NAMI found that mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings annually, with major depression, dysthymic disorder and bipolar disorder serving as major drivers of hospitalization-based costs. (NAMI, 2019) People with mental health are also at greater risk of suffering from other physical conditions and chronic medical conditions such as hypertension and cancer. Kessler (2005) also found that half of all chronic mental illness begins at the age of 14, with 75% of chronic mental illness developing by 24, which is especially worrying given that most people suffering from mental health issues do not seek help until years after the onset of the mental health issue (Kesel,, 2008).

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Specific to the issue of mental health and homelessness, multiple studies have shown a worrying correlation between the two issues. A study by the National Institute of Mental Health showed that 6% of Americans are deeply mentally ill, while for the homeless population, that number rises to 20-25% (with 45% of them having been diagnosed with mental illness previously). (Barnes, 2018) Mental illness is often seen as a key cause of homelessness, given that mental health causes individuals to be unable to care for themselves, unable to take up a livelihood or job, and lead to alienation with family members and friends, all of which may eventually contribute to homelessness. (Fox et al, 2016) Furthermore, homeless individuals, once homeless, are more likely to suffer from respiratory tract infections, substance abuse and HIV, all of which worsen an individual’s mental health. (Buckner et al, 1999) Studies by Fox et al have also shown that mental health victims and homelessness victims are also prone to at risk behaviors such as alcohol use and drug use, and are more likely to be violently assaulted, all of which lead to a decline in mental health and a rise in the likelihood of staying homelessness, thereby showing the strong link between mental health and homelessness. (Fox et al, 2016)

The persistence of mental health issues among the homeless is also the result of issues relating to the general public, government institutions and political representatives. Foremost, the general public (along with the media) often stigmatizes the issue of homelessness, with sensationalistic pieces often run in the press about a ‘crazy’ homeless guy assaulting innocent passersby, or a beggar on the street who was doing something ‘insane’. This leads the public to believe that homeless individuals with mental health are inherently dangerous and ‘crazy’, which prevents any clear light being shed on their situation. Next, government institutions tasked with dealing with homelessness and mental health are often siloed and unable to collaborate effectively to address the interlinked nature of the problem. (Greenberg, 2008) They are often also underfunded. Finally, political representatives often do not have any political incentives to push policies that would advance the interests of the homeless with mental health issues, as these are individuals who typically do not vote or are disenfranchised from voting already.

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The consequences of closing mental health institutions for the insane are severe, and policymakers should think twice about the severe potential impacts of doing so before enacting such a policy. Foremost, closing mental health institutions for those suffering from mental health issues would lead to them being unable to get much-needed treatment for their conditions. (NAMI, 2019) This would lead to such individuals being unable to hold down regular jobs or get housing, which would cause them to be homeless. As a result, they will become even more stigmatized, and may turn to alcohol abuse, substances or crime to alleviate the severity of their situation, which would lead to more severe social problems in the long-run. (Kessler, 2005) Furthermore, the closure of such institutions would cause mentally ill individuals to be alienated from their friends and families, as they are unable to seek the necessary treatment to recover and manage their conditions effectively.

The issues of mental health and homelessness are immense problems for our modern society, and the relationship between them is often misunderstood. This essay has discussed mental health issues and the homeless population, and has shown that mental health and homelessness are intricately correlated. This essay has also explained the negative impact of closing institutions for the insane. In conclusion, more should be done to alleviate the issues of homeless individuals with mental health problems, as well as the issues of those with mental health problems at risk of homelessness.


Barnes, A. J., Gilbertson, J., & Chatterjee, D. (2018). Emotional health among youth experiencing family homelessness. Pediatrics, 141(4), e20171767.

Buckner, J. C., Bassuk, E. L., Weinreb, L. F., & Brooks, M. G. (1999). Homelessness and its relation to the mental health and behavior of low-income school-age children. Developmental psychology35(1), 246.

Fox, A. M., Mulvey, P., Katz, C. M., & Shafer, M. S. (2016). Untangling the relationship between mental health and homelessness among a sample of arrestees. Crime & Delinquency, 62(5), 592-613.

Greenberg, G. A., & Rosenheck, R. A. (2008). Jail incarceration, homelessness, and mental health: A national study. Psychiatric services59(2), 170-177.

Kessler, R.C., et al. (2005). Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbitity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry62(6), 593–602. Retrieved January 16, 2015, from

Insel, T.R. (2008). Assessing the Economic Costs of Serious Mental Illness. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 165(6), 663-665

NAMI (2019, January 10). Mental Health by the numbers. Retrieved on April 12, 2019 from

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