With the loss of a place to call home, and contact with others that matter, homelessness can be a lonely experience that takes a real toll on people’s mental health.
Mental health issues have been reported in over half (54.1%) of homeless young people. Among young people using Depaul’s services, around 95% identify as needing help with their mental health. It should come as no surprise that being homeless can negatively impact a person’s mental health, and poor mental health can be both a cause and a consequence of homelessness.
People who become homeless have often experienced some sort of trauma in their lives, such as bereavement, abuse, gender-based violence; and this is compounded by the fact that being homeless is in itself a traumatic event. All this can have a profound impact on a young person’s mental health and wellbeing, how they feel about the world and themselves, how they navigate challenges and how this affects their resilience.
For young people to be able to improve their mental health, a one-size-fits all approach does not work. Support that is tailored to the individual is essential. However, too often there are barriers that can prevent young people from receiving the kind of support they need. Barriers like long waiting lists or overly restrictive criteria for access to statutory services. These can leave young people who are already traumatised in various ways in increasingly desperate and lonely situations. And these barriers can negatively impact upon a young person’s ability to engage even with support that is offered to them.
Deborah Legg, Depaul’s Mental Health and Wellbeing Team Lead, works with young people to ensure all of their mental health needs are being addressed. That includes preventing mental health and wellbeing decline in the beginning, by working in a trauma-informed way. This also means understanding a young person’s previous experiences and supporting them to recognise specific needs they may have as a result of past or ongoing trauma:
“We can help guide our clients, but ultimately, they know deep down what’s best for them and they know what works for them. What we’re doing is teasing it out with our plan, so they can take control of their own mental health and well-being.”
Another key part of Deborah’s work is in helping young people build their resilience:
“It’s not what’s wrong with you. It’s about what’s really strong with you – and how you can hold onto that and build on it. Where do you want to be in life? What would you like to achieve?”
Homelessness – and the traumas that can trigger it – can happen to anybody. People can find themselves in a situation quite suddenly where they’re alone, where there’s nobody to support them. At Depaul we work hard not to give up on people and to make sure there are as few barriers to engagement as possible. Providing a tailored approach to mental health support can help a young person heal from their trauma. When they are given the space to heal, they can then rebuild their lives and leave homelessness behind by taking on a job, studying or building relationships.