In times of emergency, people do not always think about how it will impact an under-served and underprivileged population. The global homeless population’s mental health has suffered tremendously throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which one cannot see to the naked eye. Mental health often goes unnoticed during these times of intense stress. One should not forget how the global homeless population’s mental health needs continual assistance, especially during a global pandemic, where fear and misinformation can fly rampant. The closure of everyday activities or assistance can be startling for a homeless population, possibly pushing them into harm’s way in the forms of substance abuse or violence. The global homeless population’s mental health relies on an everyday schedule and/or assistance programs to survive and when a global pandemic threatens it, living can become challenging.
COVID-19’s Impact on Homeless People
The COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affected the global homeless population. According to a study published in Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ), “Infectious disease epidemics and pandemics have a disproportionate impact on people experiencing poverty, marginalization, stigmatization and discrimination.” During the COVID-19 pandemic, a disparity is evident in people experiencing homelessness. Homeless shelters are a perfect environment for the spreading of severe acute respiratory syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) due to shared, crowded, living spaces, which make it difficult to physically distance and a high population turnover. Homeless people have a greater chance of chronic health conditions that increase poorer outcomes if they develop COVID-19. The global homeless population’s mental health can also create a barrier to trust in following pandemic protocols.
Global Mental Health
The abrupt closure of assistance programs, resources, counseling and health services can cause the global homeless population’s mental health to decline. The disruption in social engagement and supportive relationships can be detrimental to mental health. According to a CMAJ study, the added stress of businesses closing could drive homeless people to seek out alcohol or drugs, which can negatively affect the homeless population’s mental health.
Homeless people during the pandemic have limited access to job opportunities which can further displace them, creating financial problems as well as mental health issues. With nowhere to go and nowhere to work, the COVID-19 pandemic has isolated the homeless population and negatively affected the global homeless population’s mental health.
According to a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, in France, during the spring of 2020, homeless shelter residents showed “high rates of depression, with 30% presenting moderate-severe symptoms.” The same study proved moderate to severe depression was noted in approximately one-third of homeless persons interviewed. Women, younger populations, single people and chronically sick or food insecure people were at the greatest risk of experiencing depression.
Since the beginning of the lockdown in France, increased loneliness was at 37% of the homeless people that the study interviewed. Also, higher levels of worry involving isolation were present amongst depressed participants.
A Solution to the Problem of Isolation
A study that Cambridge University Press published has offered multiple ideas to mitigate isolation and the negative effects caused by the pandemic on the global homeless populations’ mental health. To monitor the collective health and emotional function of the global homeless populations’ mental health, the physical, mental and spiritual health, integrated support in pandemic health care should regulate it. Community members must seek to provide basic care to underprivileged people in their communities if they want to take their mental health seriously. The same study also offers the solution of “counseling session, spiritual direction and mental health support to nourish the spiritual and psychological wellbeing of the homeless population.”
All institutions should join together in fighting against the pandemic’s negative effects on the global homeless population’s mental health. During this time, people should lift one another up, serving the communities that COVID-19 affected the most.
– Kaley Anderson