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No Sympathy for the Mentally Ill Homeless

Those suffering with mental illness are likely to feel isolated and hopeless, but being homeless while suffering with mental illness seems even more unbearable. Severe mental illness can prevent its victims from finding work, which leads many to label them as lazy or incompetent. The stigma associated with mental illness causes much of society to ignore homeless, mentally ill individuals instead of recognizing them as human and in need of help. The National Coalition for Homelessness reports that the third largest cause of homelessness is mental illness. Most of the mentally ill homeless are plagued by schizophrenia, severe depression, or bipolar disorder; homeless veterans are typically crippled by post traumatic stress disorder. These conditions may sound daunting but with proper treatment can become manageable. Instead of receiving help, these individuals often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol, which further discourages society from reaching out to them. It is only a matter of time that those using substances or engaging in disorderly conduct on the streets face jail time, only setting them back further from attaining a healthy and happy lifestyle. State psychiatric hospitals are overwhelmed with the number of patients they already have and are certainly not equipped to treat all of those in need.

Homeless people tend to make survival their priority, and not necessarily health. A tactic called “Housing First” seeks to provide mentally ill homeless people with a place to stay, and then determine the correct medicine and counseling for them. Another obstacle in the push to treat the mentally ill homeless is due to legal restrictions. The vast majority of states in the U.S. do not condone involuntary hospitalization for for mental illness unless the individual is a danger to himself or others. This leaves thousands of homeless falsely believing that they are not mentally ill and refusing to accept treatment. Urging lawmakers to recognize how broken this system is could be a huge step in reducing the number of mentally ill individuals, and overall homeless individuals. Stereotyping against mental illness is one of the main roots of the growing homeless population, and more education should be implemented to foster a more understanding and compassionate society. Opening the public’s eyes to the fact that mental illness deserves just as much sympathy as physical illness is vital to the fate of the often neglected homeless.

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