Psychiatric disorders in and service use by young homeless people

J J Reilly, H E Herrman, D M Clarke, C C Neil, C L McNamara
Medical Journal of Australia 1994 October 3, 161 (7): 429-32

OBJECTIVES: To examine psychiatric morbidity, including substance use disorders, and service use in young people with experience of homelessness.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional study of 34 new residents in a supported accommodation program in Melbourne. Current and lifetime psychiatric diagnoses were made using the Structured Clinical Interview for the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, third edition, revised (DSM-III-R). Use of psychiatric and related services was also assessed.

RESULTS: Of the 21 women and 13 men (mean age, 18.1 years; standard deviation, 2.2 years), 50% had a current major DSM-III-R diagnosis, and 82% had a lifetime DSM-III-R diagnosis. The most common diagnoses were alcohol dependence, depressive disorders and cannabis dependence. Co-morbidity was common. Few of the young people had sought or received any treatment for depressive or substance use disorders.

CONCLUSIONS: Young people with experience of homelessness have a high prevalence of depressive disorders and substance use disorders, particularly alcohol and cannabis dependence. Despite this they have a low rate of service use. These findings suggest a need for closer interaction between mental health professionals and other agencies in the planning and provision of services to young homeless people.

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