Young homeless people suffer increased mental and physical health problems

By Lauren Higgs

| 18 April 2012

Young homeless people are twice as likely to suffer depression, and more than four times as likely to have been admitted to hospital for a health problem than their non-homeless peers, research has found.

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The report found 40 per cent of homeless young people were depressed

The study by pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and youth homelessness charity Depaul UK, documented the experiences of almost 400 16- to 25-year-olds – half of whom were homeless Depaul service users, the rest of which were living in stable accommodation.

The research found that 40 per cent of homeless young people identified themselves as being depressed, while 27 per cent had been diagnosed with a mental health condition by a doctor, compared with seven per cent of non-homeless young people.

The Depaul clients reported a higher usage of walk-in clinics, ambulance and A&E services, and were more frequently admitted to hospital.

In the past 12 months, 37 per cent of the homeless young people had visited A&E, 24 per cent had been in an ambulance and 27 per cent had been admitted to hospital.

In comparison, just 14 per cent of non-homeless young people had attended A&E, three per cent had been in ambulance and six per cent had been admitted to hospital.

The study found that young homeless people do not consider health and health-related issues a priority – since problems such as the need for housing and employment are more pressing.

Two-thirds of young homeless people said they smoke every day, getting through an average of 63 cigarettes a week, compared to only five per cent of the non-homeless group, who reported smoking 28 cigarettes per week.

The young homeless people also suffered from poor diet and nutrition – with only 73 per cent eating at least two meals a day compared to 95 per cent of non-homeless young people.

The report, Making It Matter: Improving the Health of Young Homeless People, calls on government to consult young homeless people on improving access to health services and to better integrate health, housing and social care provision for this group.

Paul Marriott, chief executive of Depaul UK, said: “Homelessness and health are hugely intertwined. Health is often a low priority for young people whose focus is on getting a roof over their heads and some stability in their lives.” 

He went on: “Given the changes to the structure of the health system, we need to make sure that those of us working with young homeless people, and the young people themselves, have a way of ensuring that our voices are heard and views included at a local level.”

Paul Burstow MP, minister of state for care services, said: “The difference in health outcomes between the young homeless and the rest of the population is unacceptable and we must do something about it.” 

He added: “I represent the Department of Health on the ministerial working group on homelessness. We published our first report last July and are currently in the process of developing a second report, which will focus on what steps can be taken to prevent homelessness and integrate services for homeless people.”   

The steering group behind the research included professionals representing the National Children's Bureau, the Royal College of GPs, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Rochester young offender institution, among others.

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