Homelessness and mental health

Homelessness and mental health

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Seeing a homeless person on the street shakes our society to its core. Photo: Shutterstock.com
Seeing a homeless person on the street shakes our society to its core. Photo: Shutterstock.com

The issue of homelessness is a very complex and serious one. Many aspects come into play when someone becomes homeless, which all need to be taken into account to mitigate the negative impact that homelessness has on a person who is homeless or who is on the verge of becoming homeless, or on society as a whole.

The different hardships and traumas that a person experiences during their life can significantly impact one’s physical and mental health. Even if these problems took place years ago, they still could negatively impact lives years later, such as domestic violence, alcohol and drugs misuse, child abuse and relationship breakdown, to name a few.

When a person becomes homeless, this traumatic experience amplifies the traumas and struggles that the person would have experienced in the past or is experiencing today. Being homeless is isolating and humiliating and can lead to the deterioration of one’s mental health, especially when the person already suffers from some mental health issues.

The trauma of becoming homeless, together with the trauma of what led the individual to lose everything they would have tirelessly worked for their entire life, could be more detrimental to the person’s physical and mental health than the issue of homelessness in itself.

This trauma could leave a significant impact on one’s mental health. If a person who is currently experiencing homelessness already suffers from any mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder (BPD) or schizophrenia, becoming homeless would significantly worsen their mental well-being. And even if a person has never been diagnosed with mental health issues, homelessness could trigger such problems.

Becoming homeless can instil a sense of inability to deal with certain issues, a sense of being inadequate and fearfulness. One might feel hopeless that there is nothing that can be done to piece their lives back together − helpless because they would not know where they should start to find the necessary assistance they need or which step they should take to get back on their feet.

At times like these, all we can see are closed doors and walls. We ask ourselves, “Why me?” or “Where did I go wrong?” or “Why am I such a failure?”.

Although these questions might serve as a learning point, it is also important to understand that you are not alone and that homelessness is only a chapter in your journey called ‘life’.

However, homelessness not only impacts the mental health of the individual person or family who becomes homeless. It also affects the mental health of members of society. Why?

When society realises that there are people, including children, who are homeless, it signifies that there is something which is not right. It makes society, and its members, realise that, our reality − the one experienced by most of the population that have stable and adequate housing − is different from that of others. It brings us to the realisation that not everything is rosey and that something needs to be done because it is unacceptable that in the 21st century there are people who cannot afford decent housing.

Seeing a homeless person on the street shakes our society to its core, especially since we often think of homelessness as something seen in movies or foreign countries and that there are no homeless people in Malta. The worst part is that, even though members within our society realise that there are people and entire families who experience homelessness, the subject is still considered a taboo.

It is still a taboo to talk about what leads a person to become homeless, what their stories are and what they need to get back on their feet. Also, it is inconceivable to start discussions about how we can mitigate the issue of homelessness and what leads a person or family to become homeless, and to create the necessary policies, legislations, infrastructures and support that they need and which society needs.

These realisations can have a negative impact on our mental health, on our values, thoughts, culture, traditions and lifestyle. It can be detrimental for our being as it challenges everything we knew until now.

There are several services and NGOs that can help individuals to secure housing, even temporarily, and support individuals in various ways.

If you require any support or know someone who does, YMCA Malta operates the Wellbeing Programme where it offers psychotherapeutic sessions for the vulnerable in our community. Additionally, at the start of the pandemic, YMCA Malta launched the Loneliness Response Line, a support line that, through phone calls, offers support to those who are going through a difficult time. You can contact us on 9992 8625.

You are not alone.

Matthias Vella is the media and communications officer of YMCA Valletta.


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