[Prevalence of psychiatric disorders among homeless adolescents]

Wolfgang Aichhorn, Stefan Santeler, Renate Stelzig-Schöler, Georg Kemmler, Maria Steinmayr-Gensluckner, Hartmann Hinterhuber
Neuropsychiatrie: Klinik, Diagnostik, Therapie und Rehabilitation 2008, 22 (3): 180-8
Various studies show a high prevalence of mental disorders among homeless people. So far most of these studies deal solely with single men, mainly affected by homelessness. Few data exist for women, children, adolescents and whole families that are more and more affected by poverty and homelessness. This study, conducted in Innsbruck/Austria, determined the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among homeless adolescents. The adolescents were recruited in a counselling centre and homeless shelter specifically founded for homeless youth. Mental disorders were diagnosed with the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-IV (SKID-I). 40 adolescents and young adults ranging from 14-23 years (mean 17.9 years) were included in the study. The results show that 58% of the homeless adolescents were exposed to continuous violence in their families and that violence was a major reason for them to leave home. The overall prevalence of diagnosed psychiatric disorders was 80% in the whole sample; the leading disorder was substance abuse/dependence (65%), followed by mood disorders (42.5%), anxiety disorders (17.5%) and eating disorders (17.5%). 57.5% of the adolescents had a history of self-harm and 25% reported at least one suicide attempt. Duration of homelessness had the greatest influence on the prevalence of mental disorders. Longer duration of homelessness was associated with a higher risk of psychiatric disorder or self-harm. These results demonstrate the urgent need for early psychosocial and psychiatric help for homeless adolescents.

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