The Link Between Substance Abuse and Mental Illness Leading to Homelessness

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According to the article, “The connections between substance abuse and mental illness”, it says that one of the biggest connection between substance abuse and mental illness is self-medicating. People want to medicate or numb the issues they are facing by using drugs or alcohol. The article gave an example that a depressed person may use marijuana to numb the pain, or a person who has social anxiety might drink to feel more comfortable in social situations. When dealing with a mental illness or alcoholism, it’s important that the person struggling gets both issues addressed so they can be dealt with at the same time.

The article also states that the untreated symptoms of mental illness can make it difficult for a person who is in recovery to remain clean and sober. Untreated substance abuse will and can make mental health treatment ineffective. In this article, it only talked about the connection between substance abuse and mental illness; but, one could say these two could lead to homelessness. Understanding the reasons why people become homeless may help connect the other two factors and how they tie together. Most people become homeless because of illness, disability, loss of a job, loss of a loved one, divorce, depression and mental illness; these are all factors of why one is homeless.

According to the article stated above, “substance abuse is a result of homelessness rather than a cause. People that become homeless often turn to drugs and alcohol to cope with their situations(the connection between mental illness and substance abuse)”. This argument makes sense if you’re in a situation like this and are feeling a loss of hope; self-medicating gives them temporary relief. Researchers explain the correlation between mental illness and substance abuse, but not the correlation between all three. For example, mental illness and substance abuse both need to be addressed; without these issues being addressed this could cause a spiral downhill which in result could end with people being homeless.

According to an article Substance Abuse and Homelessness “Two-thirds of homeless people reported that drugs/alcohol were major reasons for their becoming homeless”. This quote shows that mental illness and substance abuse are two major issues that need to be handled before we can even address homelessness. If two-thirds (of homeless people) report that substance abuse is the cause to becoming homelessness, getting them resources they need to help them, we could possibly have less homeless people.

In my local area, I know of one homeless shelter which is the Harmony House. The policy there is you cannot be currently addicted to drugs or alcohol, you must be completely clean and sober prior to coming to the house and must remain that way during your time of stay. If caught abusing the policy you are put out. One other resource in the Mansfield area that is available to people is Mansfield Residential Treatment which requires inpatient treatment for twenty-four hours providing you with a variety of different treatment options; this type of program is more for people who have a severe addiction problem.

The second resource is Mansfield Partial Hospitalization program which allows patients to travel to a treatment facility during the day and receive treatment, this way you can still live at home and still get the help you need. The last resource is Mansfield Outpatient Program still able to receive treatment without having to spend a lot of time in facilities.

I think giving homeless people shelter first is a good idea, I believe you’ve got to tackle one issue at the time. The first issue that needs to be addressed is getting homeless people off the streets where they have the easier to drugs and alcohol. After they are off the streets, let’s get them the help and resources they need for their mental illness, addiction, or both whatever the case may be. But there is no way one will even want the help if they are not even stable with food, clothes and shelter. Turning our backs on them is only going to make the situation much worse. Let’s be the change we want to see in the world and our community. Government and private organizations should provide funding for developing and running homeless shelters. With the government’s assistance with funding I think we could get a lot more people off the street, sober, back on their feet and working again. When people hit a rough patch and lose it all, that does not mean we close the door on them.

What Can Social Workers Do?

Social workers need to advocate for homeless people and help others recognize the issues and human rights. The article, “Social workers role in ending the criminalization of homelessness: Opportunities for actions”, states the following,” Social workers must promote the recognition and protection of the human rights of people experiencing homelessness. One way to achieve these goals is through legal advocacy to challenge the unconstitutionality of anti-homeless laws” (Aykanian, A., & Wonhyung, L). Social workers are to be a support system for those who are homeless. Instead of arresting people for being homeless, let’s provide them safety and security. For the time being, let’s create a system that protects them.

For example, Rhode Island and Illinois created a bill of rights that protect homeless people from being arrested for being homeless. They also have access to transitional shelters along with free storage for those who are experiencing homelessness. On a micro level, social workers can meet with each homeless person or families individually and see what situation they are in: how they became homeless and examine how they are acting, do they appear under the influence, withdrawn do they appear to have a mental illness, looking for these and taking mental notes could help us figure out what’s the next step and which resources to provide for them.

On a macro level, social workers could bring community members and law enforcement together and educate them on homeless people; I do not think enough people understand that homeless people need help and it could happen to anybody no matter what your socioeconomic status is. In the article stated above it claims, “Furthermore, homeless individuals are often incarcerated for low-level crimes and offensive behavior” (Fitzpatrick & Myrstol, 2011). In fact, homeless people are commonly incarcerated for violating nuisance ordinances, such as camping without a permit, begging, and public intoxication (Aykanian, A., & Wonhyung, L.)”.

People are so quick to incarcerate the homeless instead of getting them help and resources they need. These insignificant crimes are not enough to lock someone up; why take up jail space for such minor crimes when that space could be used for people are out committing more severe crimes? Locking homeless people up for being homeless is not fair and will not fix the situation. On the topic of helping at a macro level, the article states, “social workers could also help reduce the stereotypes that people have on homeless people through public awareness campaign to address negative public sentiment or attitude” (Aykanian, A., & Wonhyung, L).

Since mezzo falls right in between macro and micro, social workers could talk to the council of a community and see if their could be someway they could fund alternatives for homeless people, that meet basic needs such as using the bathroom, showering etc. For example,” in an effort to reduce arrests for public urination, Portland, Oregon, built four solar-powered 24-hour public restrooms, providing a cost-effective benefit to homeless people and the general public” (Aykanian, A., & Wonhyung, L.). Thats one simple step that could reduce arrest for the homeless. It’s the simple changes that could make a difference, one step at a time.

What Can You Do?

As an individual, I would address the issues of substance abuse and mentally ill homeless people in my community by starting an education support group, that would educate people about what substance abuse is, what mental illness is and what kind of a toll it takes on people. I think the poeple in the community need to be more aware and understanding of people who are homeless and battling addiction and mental illnesses. In an article, “The role of functional social support in treatment retention and outcomes it said there were three kinds of support groups that was supportive to people in some way. “The older patients group which was for 55 years or older, A women’s group and occupational therapy (Dobkin, P. L., Civita, M. D., Paraherakis, A., & Gill, K)”. These all relate someway back to mental health and substance abuse.

The barriers that might come in between are not being able to have an open location to start this support group, people not caring enough and not showing up, and simply not being educated enough. To reduce these barriers I could definitely get out in my community more and educated myself on homelessness as well as do my research and talk to people personally who are affected by this and ask them what they would like to see done in the community.

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