Homelessness: St Mungo’s demands action on mental health

Services are failing to address the mental health problems of homeless people despite significantly higher rates of prevalence than in the wider population, St Mungo’s said today.

The charity issued a call for “urgent action” in a new report, Happiness Matters, based on the views of 200 rough sleepers and hostel residents in London, mostly aged between 30 and 50.

It said that the long-standing link between mental illness and homelessness can only be broken with greater access to specialist services, specifically via GPs and hostels.

The report was published in the charity’s annual action week, alongside the launch of a campaign to raise £1m to boost its own mental health services.

85% of homeless people report mental health issues

The vast majority of homeless people surveyed – 85% – reported a diagnosed mental health problem or concerns about their mental health, including 40% diagnosed with depression and 22% with schizophrenia. 

Official estimates suggest 17% of adults in the general population have a diagnosed mental health problem at any one time.

However, 39% of 97 questionnaire respondents said they did not feel they would get the support they needed if they had a mental health problem.

Significant shortcoming

The most significant shortcoming identified by the report was a lack of co-ordination between specialist and mainstream services.

The report recommended compulsory mental health training for all frontline staff in homelessness services. It also called for guaranteed access to mental health services through GPs and hostels to increase take-up of treatment and the establishment of specialist walk-in centres and greater access to talking therapies.

An “all-in-one” approach was also required to address people’s complex needs, including substance misuse issues, due to high levels of dual diagnosis among homeless people. 

Increase in rough sleeping

Charles Fraser, chief executive of St Mungo’s, said that following a 15% increase in the number of rough sleepers in London in the last year, action was urgently needed.

“We must not let this upward trend continue,” he said. “Many are living on the streets with serious diagnosed mental health problems – receiving little or no treatment and under increasing pressures which could make existing conditions worse.”

He added: “We need to ensure we focus on not just getting a roof over people’s heads but also on improving access to appropriate health support services.”

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