Although I did not intend for this to be a series, this is the third article I have written about homelessness. I also wanted to say a few words about mental illness, as I am close to several people so diagnosed. This came up during commenting on one of the previous articles, and I felt that it needed to be discussed in more detail than the comment structure allowed. My two previous articles about homelessness on this site were Where Do Americans Live? and Ask Not What the Homeless Can Do for You, Ask What They Can Do for Themselves.
This is a much too brief article to allow for more than a thumbnail sketch of mental illness and why homeless people are at a greater risk if they have certain disorders. Nor is it an exposé on drugs and street living, but rather a look at how the three come together. Please use the links provided, and your own searches on the topics, to better educate yourself.
Most, if not all, people suffer from the effects of mental disorders to some extent. Perhaps suffer is too strong a word for what many people consider to be personality traits or quirks. Consider someone you believe to be anal retentive; everything has to be just so, or they may be disturbed when their routine is out of kilter. Mostly we adjust to them and their ways, and manage to get along. But, this could be more than just quirkiness; it might be a manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
Another example would be people who seem grumpy or grouchy much of the time, which might be symptomatic of dysthymia (a mild form of depression) or one of several other mood disorders. Not liking to speak in public is a fairly common quirk but could be seen in people with a mild specific phobia, or other anxiety disorders.
Psychiatrists and psychologists have diagnostic criteria for all of the disorders and usually some way of scaling or rating them by the effect they have on a person’s life (read more about disorders at PsychCentral). To be considered as affected by a disorder, the symptoms usually have to be continuous for several months, and in some cases up to one year. This graph shows the incidence of the five major disorder areas in the 12 month, and lifetime prevalence categories used by professionals. Prevalence is the extent to which the disorder is felt over a specific time period.