We know, we know, World Suicide Day came and went. We are over a month late but that is the intention.
Who did you think about when you considered suicide? Did you think of a family member? People you work with? Did you think about the homeless?
10th September 2021. A day to remember the previous victims of a tragic end and a day to prevent more people from following in their footsteps. Organisations across the United Kingdom work together on this day to create awareness for society about the dangers of unaddressed mental health, of people left alone to fight the dreaded black cloud. There are many reasons why someone may feel suicidal, and one of these is homelessness.
What are the statistics?
In 2019 the number of deaths by suicide in the homeless rose by over 30%. There was an estimated 112 deaths by this method.
The way of life for someone who is homeless prevents them from engaging with the support networks that others have access to, making it difficult for them to recover from depression and low mood. One study found that out of 330 homeless adults, 61% reported experiencing suicidal ideation, and 34% had tried to take their lives. It found that there was more chance of experiencing these feelings if they were homeless for a week or more when they were a child or any person who had been without a home for more than six months. The participants who had these feelings were also more likely to have a psychiatric illness that was not being managed.
Reasons why the homeless may feel suicidal
The homeless are of particular risk as they tend to have high levels of mental health issues, drug, and alcohol addiction, and feel isolated. Life on the streets, sofa surfing, or in bed and breakfasts can be traumatic, dangerous, and stressful. Many homeless people have also suffered from bereavement, divorce, or another personal issue that has led to them becoming homeless. While they are homeless they face poverty, personal conflicts, social isolation, and health-related problems.
On top of this 80% of homeless people in England alone report mental health issues. 45% of which had a diagnosis.
It is understood that over 62% have addictions and over 42% have a mixture of both.
1 in 5 people that have mental health issues will also have suicidal thoughts, 1 in 14 will self-harm, and 1 in 15 will try to take their lives.
Those who have addictions are 8x more likely to take their lives. This is because their inhibitions lower and alcohol can increase the feelings of depression.
Why common interventions may not work
According to studies in America, the number one reason for the homeless to contact a GP is related to depression and their coping mechanisms for dealing with the illness. These people are given anti-depressants and sent on their way. Although I have been unable to find any similar studies within the UK I can assume that the statistics would be similar.
Although anti-depressants can be a great start for dealing with depression, there are many reasons why this intervention may not work for homeless people.
It is difficult for homeless people to keep hold of their medication because they often leave their belongings somewhere while they search for food, accommodation, or attend meetings with key workers. When they return to their things, it is not guaranteed that they will all be there.
Medication is difficult for the homeless to reorder regularly. As GP surgeries cover small areas, patients must have an address that is within the catchment area. Homeless people move around a lot, whether that is because those living on the streets are moved on or because the friend's house that they were sofa surfing in has kicked them out. GP’s can refuse to keep patients on if they are no longer in the area.
Medication can be exchanged for food and a roof.
Knowing that you are important and loved is a vital ingredient for recovery from suicidal thoughts, and this can also be a difficulty for homeless individuals. Some homeless people have been evicted from the family home, undergone a divorce, or sleep in their car alone. They may have lost their job and have found themselves sleeping on the street. Whatever the reason leading to them becoming homeless, they are likely to be feeling unwelcome, unwanted, and a burden on others. If they have been turned down for housing due to rent arrears, a criminal record, or addiction then they may feel that there is no other option available to them but to make it end.
Without strong relationships, it is unlikely that organisations will notice if behaviour changes or know the person well enough for them to have an open and honest discussion about their feelings.
If the homeless person does decide to take their life, they may not have anyone that would find them before it is too late. Therefore, even if they change their mind, they would be unable to stop the chain of events.
What needs to happen?
To save the lives of the homeless, they must have a key worker that can build a relationship with them. Someone who will know if something is wrong and who is friendly enough to talk to about feelings. If suicidal thoughts are disclosed, organisations must follow practice guidelines to ensure that a safety plan is in place.
Whether it is 10th September, October, or February, take a moment to think about the lives of the homeless and remember that they are human too, with feelings.
The Clothing Collective recognises the effects of mental health on the homeless, as well as other people who are experiencing poverty. Through the use of vouchers, The Clothing Collective attempts to support the reestablishment of pride, dignity, and respect. You too could help the homeless and those facing poverty.
To help those in need, you can make donations to the Clothing Collective here
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