Mental health and substance abuse indicators among homeless youth in Denver, Colorado

Carrie Merscham, James M Van Leeuwen, Megan McGuire
Child Welfare 2009, 88 (2): 93-110
We report the results of mental health evaluations from 182 homeless youth residing in a Denver, Colorado, shelter. The literature on homeless youth, although developing, is still somewhat limited as it relates to mental health, substance abuse, and trauma. This study was motivated by clinically observed high rates of mental illness, trauma, dangerousness issues, and drug and alcohol abuse. Using archival data from mental health evaluations conducted over two years, variables including gender, age, ethnicity, primary diagnosis, drug of choice, trauma history, suicidal ideation, homicidal ideation, and legal history were assessed. Results discovered significantly higher than expected diagnoses of mental illness and associations between drug of choice and diagnosis, trauma history and suicidal ideation, and trauma history and diagnosis. Results suggest a strong need for co-occurring treatment, trauma-focused therapy, and attention to both mental illness and substance abuse in homeless youth.

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