Toward Understanding Homelessness: The 2007 National Symposium on Homelessness Research. Homeless Youth in the United States: Recent Research Findings and Intervention Approaches. Mental Health and Behavioral Disorders

03/01/2007

Homeless youth seem to be at elevated risk for a variety of mental health problems, including mood disorders, suicide attempts, and post traumatic stress disorder (Cauce et al., 2000; Clark & Robertson, 1996; Feitel et al., 1992; Fronczak & Toro, 2003; Greenblatt & Robertson, 1993; McCaskill, Toro, & Wolfe, 1998; Powers, Eckenrode, & Jaklitsch, 1990; Rew, Thomas, Horner, Resnick, & Beuhring, 2001; Rotheram-Borus, 1993; Robertson, 1989; Stewart et al., 2004; Toro & Goldstein, 2000, Yates et al., 1988). The risk of mental health problems may be particularly high among street youth, who tend to have experienced more stressful events and to exhibit more psychological symptoms than homeless youth who have not spent time on the streets (Robertson & Toro, 1999; Whitbeck & Hoyt, 1999).

Behavioral problems, such as conduct or oppositional defiant disorder, maybe even more prevalent than mental health problems (Cauce et al., 2000; McCaskill, Toro, & Wolfe, 1998; Toro & Goldstein, 2000). Homeless youth also exhibit high rates of substance use disorders, including alcohol abuse or dependence and drug abuse or dependence (e.g., Baer, Ginzler, & Peterson, 2003; MacLean, Paradise, & Cauce, 1999; Robertson, 1989; Rotheram-Borus, 1993; Thompson, Sayfer, & Polio, 2001; Thompson, Kost, & Pollio, 2003; Van Leeuwen, 2002; Van Leeuwen et al., 2005; Yates et al., 1988).

Although the prevalence of some diagnoses (e.g., depression) has been consistent across studies, lower rates are found for other disorders (e.g., conduct disorder) when more rigorous assessments are used and when homeless youth are recruited from shelters rather than the streets (Robertson & Toro, 1999). Nevertheless, regardless of the sample or the assessment method used, mental health and behavioral disorders seem to be more prevalent among homeless youth than among matched housed peers or the general adolescent population (McCaskill, Toro, & Wolfe, 1998; Toro & Goldstein, 2000). Unfortunately, the reason for the high prevalence rates observed among homeless youth is far from clear (Robertson, 1992; Robertson & Toro, 1999; Toro, 1998). Mental health and behavioral disorders contribute to family conflict and thus to homelessness. However, causality could also be in the opposite direction (Cauce et al., 1994; MacLean, Embry, & Cauce, 1999). Alternatively, some other factor or combination of factors could be a cause of both.

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