Homeless Men Suffer Worse Stress than Returned Servicemen - Study
21 February 2013 at 9:19 am
Homeless men experience higher levels of post-traumatic stress disorder than the mainstream male population, including returned servicemen, a new study has found.
The Mission Australia study, How homeless men are faring: Baseline report from Michael’s Intensive Supported Housing (MISHA) surveyed 75 men at their entry point to the Sydney-based MISHA homeless program, which links clients with housing and support services.
The report found that 20 per cent of men screened positive for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – more than four times higher than Australia’s mainstream male population, where the rate is 4.6 per cent.
It is also higher than that of returned troops in the US, where the upper estimate for PTSD incidence is 17.1 per cent.
Mission Australia’s General Manager of Advocacy and Social Policy, Martin Thomas, said the data was an important piece in the puzzle in understanding the causes of homelessness and how to address it.
“For men living in Sydney without secure accommodation to have a higher level of PTSD than returned servicemen who have witnessed killings and other war-related violence is shocking,” Thomas said.
“We’ve known anecdotally for a long time that homeless people experience higher levels of violent victimisation, such as physical and sexual assault. That’s because, by the nature of not having a safe and secure home to go to, they are more visible and exposed.
“We’ve also known for a while that struggling with mental health is a contributing factor to people becoming homeless in the first place, and which also prevents them from being able to maintain independent accommodation.
“So we are not surprised.”
Thomas said that while he was not surprised about the relatively high level of distress among this group, what was so surprising was the rate of PTSD for homeless men was higher than returned servicemen who have been to warzones and experienced combat, the death or significant injury of a comrade or injury to themselves.
Of the men surveyed the study revealed that 89 per cent had experienced at least one traumatic event in their life. The most common of these was being threatened with a weapon or being held captive, witnessing another person being seriously injured or killed, and being physically abused.
The survey also found that half of the respondents had been involved in a life-threatening accident and almost one quarter had been sexually molested.
Thomas said that while the results were worrying, they did confirm what services have been reporting.
According to Mission Australia internal data, frontline service staff in homeless services often spend more time helping people with mental health needs than they do dealing with homelessness.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics recently reported an 8 per cent increase in homelessness in Australia between 2006 and 2011.
Martin Thomas said that the MISHA’s PTSD results confirmed the need for psychological services to be embedded as an essential component in any service delivery model when helping people out of homelessness.
“The MISHA program is funded by a private donor which links chronically homeless men in the Parramatta area to social housing, and then builds a range of services around individuals to help them keep their tenancy and stay off the streets.
“Critically, it employs a dedicated psychiatrist for the men it helps, due to their tendency to experience a high rate of trauma, mental distress and difficulty accessing mainstream health services.
“Given the level of trauma experienced by homeless people, it’s a model that should inform future homeless service delivery across the country,” Thomas said.