Like various socioeconomic deprivations, homelessness has always been a curse to the society. Being a leading cause of major mental and physical health issues, homelessness is a major concern for the state and federal governments. Unable to overcome the multi-pronged challenges of homelessness, many people resort to substances for comfort.
Several past researches have proved that homelessness is responsible for triggering a number of severe illnesses, especially psychiatric disorders. In fact, homeless children tend to develop a high level of mental illnesses. Due to the increased prevalence of mental disorders and risk-taking behaviors like substance abuse among such children, a large number of people develop the problem of coexisting disorders or dual diagnosis, such as depression and alcoholism.
With the rapidly growing population of homeless children, numerous studies are being conducted to understand the association between homelessness and mental health issues. A Danish study, published in “The Lancet,” revealed that the prevalence of mental health problems among homeless people affects the future generations by increasing the likelihood of developing psychiatric disorders in children. It highlighted that both parental and social factors play a pivotal role in the healthy and positive development of children.
The study results were based on an assessment of over 1 million children and adolescents in the age group 0 to 16 years. The participants were living or born in Denmark between Jan 1999 and Dec 2015. A team of researchers led by Sandra Feodor Nilsson, MSc, University of Copenhagen, conducted the study.
Key findings of the study
The study has revealed a number of surprising facts about the population of homeless children. Some of the prominent findings of the study are as mentioned below:
- Children with at least one parent having a history of homelessness were found to be more than twice at risk of developing a psychiatric disorder compared to those whose parents had no history of homelessness. The numbers revealed were 15.1 cases per 1,000 person-years and 6 cases per 1,000 person-years, respectively.
- Children with both parents or only a father with a history of homelessness were found to have similar incidence rate ratios (IRR) of psychiatric disorders. Compared to children of a father with the problem of homelessness, the IRR was found to be higher among those with only a mother suffering from a history of homelessness.
- The children of parents with a history of homelessness are at a higher risk of developing substance use disorders (SUDs). The IRR was higher in children with only mother having a history of homelessness.
- The risk of psychosis and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children was also found to be higher when only the mother had a history of homelessness.
- A child is likely to have a high IRR for attachment disorder in case his or her both parents had a history of homelessness.
- After adjustment for parental psychiatric disorders, children were still found to be at a higher risk of most psychiatric disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), mental retardation, tics and Tourette’s disorders. However, some of the exceptions included affective disorders and eating disorders.
According to Wayne Hall of the Centre for Youth Substance Abuse Research at the University of Queensland, “Homelessness makes parenting difficult and it is usually accompanied by social adversity and poverty. Unstable housing interferes with children’s schooling and prevents them from developing friendships and social relationships with peers. There could also be genetic risks of developing mental disorders that increase the risk of parental homelessness and their offspring’s risk of developing these disorders.”
Take the initiative to improve mental health
Despite having its own restrictions, such as inability to control the confounders like availability of alternative family support, undiagnosed mental disorders in parents, pre-existing risk risks for developing psychiatric illnesses, etc. the study plays a key role in emphasizing the importance of positive parenting on the mental health of children. Due to the challenges of mental disorders, most of such children are unable to attain appropriate education and employment. Moreover, once affected by a mental disorder, they are also at an increased risk of developing addiction.
If you or someone you know is affected by dual diagnosis, contact the California Dual Diagnosis Helpline for information and guidance. Call our 24/7 helpline number 855980-1736 or chat online to connect with the best dual diagnosis treatment centers in California.