Mental ill-health a leading cause of homelessness for young Australians: report

Mental ill-health a leading cause of homelessness for young Australians: report

30 January 2021

Orygen has released a major report that has found mental ill-health to be a significant risk factor that can lead a young person to experience homelessness.

The report, A welcome home: Homelessness and mental health, found that in up to 35 per cent of cases, mental ill-health had contributed to young people experiencing homelessness.

Cameron Boyle, senior policy analyst at Orygen, and lead author of the report, said young people in Australia were disproportionately likely to experience homelessness.

“While people aged 12 to 24 years make up just under 20 per cent of the Australian population, they comprise 25 per cent of individuals experiencing homelessness.”

Mr Boyle said the causes of youth homelessness are complex.

“Youth homelessness can be caused by poverty, housing shortages, problems in the home, or issues such as alcohol and other drug use, mental ill-health, education or welfare dependency,” he said.

The report found a wide range of psychiatric disorders among young people who had experience of homelessness. Such disorders included major depression, psychosis, mania and hypomania, suicidal thoughts, post-traumatic stress disorder, and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

“Evidence has shown that it’s not necessarily the type, but the severity of mental ill-health that will determine what young person is at risk,” Mr Boyle said.

“One study we reviewed found psychotic disorders increased the risk of youth homelessness  by 110 per cent.

“If left untreated, mental ill-health poses a significant risk to young people experiencing homelessness,” Mr Boyle said

The report outlined a number of key initiatives, that if adopted, could minimise the number of young Australians experiencing homelessness and the impact it has on their lives.

“When we examined the Australian policy framework around mental health and homelessness we noted a lack of integration between mental health and housing services,” Mr Boyle said.

“This is not helpful, it only increases the complexity of service settings for young people and increases the chances of disengagement with these services.”

Mr Boyle said any response to homelessness will require a coordinated government response across a range of domains, particularly between mental health care and homelessness support, and should involve the voices and experiences of young people throughout the process.

“We need an increase in housing stock, which is also sadly lacking. Housing is necessary to support individual health and wellbeing and is protective against a range of negative outcomes, including mental ill-health and homelessness.

Mr Boyle said, it is vital that the development of preventative and early intervention services and programs to address both homelessness and mental ill-health involve young people at every point of the way.

“It is hoped that the recommendations in this report will go some way to alleviating the burden that homelessness places on our young people and contributes to mental health focused approaches, policies and frameworks that will work toward resolving youth homelessness,” he said.

Read the report