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Many Homeless Have Mental Illness

Over the last year, I've been learning much as possible about homeless people with disabling mental illnesses, especially ones with psychotic disorders.

May is Mental Health Month, and I am a licensed professional counselor, so this might be a good venue and time to share some of what I found.

First, it's impossible for anyone to determine, with absolute certainty, the number of homeless Americans with schizophrenia or other psychotic disorders. These good people don't wear name tags letting you know they have a mental illness. It's a hidden disability. Most people with any form of schizophrenia, for example, can't hold a regular job.

Probably a little more than one percent of the general population has a form of schizophrenia, whereas the rate among chronically homeless people is probably just above ten percent, which amounts to a rate about ten times that of the general population.

A person with schizophrenia, in general, may have bizarre delusions, hallucinations, show grossly disorganized or inappropriate behavior, disorganized speech, emotional unresponsiveness, say few words, and be unable to initiate activities. Men usually acquire schizophrenia between ages 18-25 and women ages 25-35. Genetics play a role. A person right before onset usually experiences severe stress.

What makes the homeless population more of a concern, given their financial limitations and often their lack of healthcare insurance, is their strong likelihood of not having access to psychiatric care and medication, which is absolutely essential to managing these disorders.

People with schizophrenia tend to have poor insight into having it, leading many of them who aren't seeing a psychiatrist to not see a need for going, and the ones seeing a psychiatrist often to not comply with treatment. Many times the medication prescribed has almost intolerable side effects. Also, in some cases, the disorder itself tends to move people toward social isolation and away from seeking treatment.

For instance, one person I met preferred homelessness because being so enabled him to stay away from people he thought were persecuting him. His thoughts were a manifestation of a delusional disorder, akin to schizophrenia. This particular person likely never would apply for healthcare insurance (he didn't have any then) or see a psychiatrist due to deep-seated fears of what "they" would do to him.

There are other serious and persistent mental illnesses besides schizophrenia, including borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, and recurrent major depression. Other homeless people have these potentially disabling conditions, too.


LittleGiantFudge.com and Palmer Bus Service make this column possible.

Daniel J. Vance is a licensed professional counselor and national certified counselor from Vernon Center, Minn. His weekly newspaper column Disabilities has been published in more than 260 newspapers.

Daniel J. Vance may be reached at www.danieljvance.com



Placer County News Headlines

California Fires Shutter Lake Tahoe IRONMAN EventDue to unsafe air quality conditions in the Lake Tahoe basin, IRONMAN Lake Tahoe and IRONMAN 70.3 Lake Tahoe will not take place today, Sunday, September 21, 2014.

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PCWA Board Declares King Fire EmergencyCalifornia Fire Update: Auburn, CA- Critically important power generation, residential, maintenance, and storage facilities of the Placer County Water Agency

Roseville Fundraiser Raises $18,000 for Upcoming MobilePackA local effort to pack 500,000 meals for malnourished children around the world recently raised nearly $18,000 at a dinner fundraiser

Steinbach Tackles Paranoid SchizophreniaHe began hearing voices in his head at age 15. It started with hearing a man and a woman. They were good voices.

King Fire Forces Air Quality AdvisoryCalifornia Fire Update: The Placer County Public Health Officer and Placer County Air Pollution Control District are issuing this joint Air Quality Advisory to notify the public of poor air quality conditions due to smoke from the King Fire

Sierra College Slashing Annual Water Use by 30 PercentDrought Watch: Rocklin's Sierra College Expected to Decrease Annual Water Use by 30 Percent

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KidsFirst and The Rite Aid Foundation PartnerRoseville, CA -- KidsFirst is the Child Abuse Prevention Council of Placer County, operating three Counseling and Family Resource Centers in Roseville, Auburn and Citrus Heights

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