“My health has suffered. I get this nervous panic with this pain in my chest. I don’t feel well – always tired and sleeping. It feels strange. The hospital put me on an anxiety drug. I don’t like them. They are not my thing. I don’t do drugs or alcohol. I never have. They only gave them to me because I was in such a nervous panic. The pressure in my heart, it felt like it would burst.”

'Rolf'

The link between poor mental health and homelessness is well documented. People who are homeless have a higher prevalence of mental illness when compared to the general population.

Our 2013 report, How Did I Get Here? explores the pathways into homelessness among people staying in our Emergency Shelter over a five-week period. Over two thirds of people included in the analysis had a mental health condition – the most common condition was depression. Just over half of those with a mental health condition suffered from anxiety, while one in ten suffered from paranoia. Cases of Schizophrenia, Bi-Polar, Personality Disorder and Psychosis were also present.

“I have depression on and off all of my life. I used to sleep all day and be awake all night.” – ‘Dave’

A 2012 report in the UK found that a significant majority of homeless hostels estimate that mental health issues are experienced by more than half of their residents. Our How Did I Get Here? report found that more than four out of five people with a mental health condition had experience of the criminal justice system.

Studies in the U.S. have found that there is a correlation between homelessness and incarceration. Those with mental illness or substance misuse problems were found to be incarcerated at a higher frequency than the general population.

“I’ve been a psychiatric patient for 15 years. I had a nervous breakdown in my twenties. I was kept in a psychiatric hospital for two years without getting out. I got ten electro-shock treatments to my brain to bring me back. My husband did that to me. He put me through hell and back. I couldn’t see the light at all, thought I’d never see the end of the tunnel. But I did though – I got through it.” – ‘Paula’

Our How Did I Get Here? report found that over two thirds of people with a mental health condition had spent some time previously in a care institution. 44% had previously been admitted to psychiatric care, half of whom had been admitted involuntarily. A third had been admitted because of self-harming or risk of suicide.

“Not feeling down on myself; not staying in bed during the day so the depression is better. (My) health is up and down.” – ‘Martin’

People who are homeless have the same health problems as people with homes, but at rates three to six times greater than the housed population. People who are homeless are more at risk of certain physical health conditions. Due to barriers to accessing the services they need, many experience physical health needs for a prolonged period or have conditions which are left untreated or undiagnosed.

Almost half of people included in the analysis for our How Did I Get Here? report had a physical health condition. The most common complaints were muscle / bone / joint pain, affecting 41%, followed by respiratory problems affecting 36%. Other common physical health conditions were epilepsy / seizures, heart complaints and poor eyesight. Almost a half were suffering from two or more physical health conditions.

“Access to the doctor and psychiatrist are good as my health is up and down.” – ‘Martin’

A UK-wide health needs audit of homeless hostels in 2011 found that joint / muscular problems were the most common physical health complaints, followed by chest pain / breathing problems.

The UK audit found that Higher rates of poor health can be linked to existing support needs, such as those relating to substance misuse, which can lower an individual’s immune system or make treatment more complex; poor living conditions which can cause or exacerbate poor physical health, poor nutrition and diet – almost 1 in 3 people in the audit ate less than one meal a day; and a lack of awareness about their health needs and where to go for help.

Among those included in our How Did I Get Here? study and who had a physical health condition, 59% were using drugs problematically, half were using alcohol problematically, and all but one had spent time previously sleeping rough.

A dedicated team of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals was established in our Day Service to help address many of these health issues. Cork’s Adult Homeless Multi-Disciplinary Team works specifically with people sleeping rough or staying in emergency accommodation, many of whom experience very poor mental and physical health; the specialist health team is experienced in treating these complex health issues.

Read Our Health & Homelessness Reports
Three health snapshot studies
Women’s Health and Homelessness in Cork

October 2011

A Snapshot Study of the health and well-being among women using homeless services in Cork.

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Homelessness Makes You Sick – A Snapshot Study

October 2010

A Snapshot Study of the health and well-being among men & women using homeless services in Cork.

Sick and Tired of Homelessness – A Snapshot Study in Cork

September 2009

A Snapshot Study of the health and well-being among people long-term homeless in Cork.