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Calgary study suggests mental health disorders and homelessness closely linked

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New research out of the University of Calgary shows an extremely prominent link between mental health disorders and people experiencing homelessness. 

According to the paper, up to 75 per cent of adults who are currently living rough have an underlying mental health condition. 

The lifetime prevalence is even higher: 86 per cent of males have struggled with a disorder, and 69 per cent of females. 

Clinician-researcher and senior author of the paper, Dr. Dallas Seitz, calls the numbers "eye-opening."

"I would say it's not surprising, but it's probably still shocking to see," he told CTV News.

"We all kind of intuitively know (there’s a connection). I think what was really surprising to me is the extent of it (and) how consistent it was across the world."

Seitz says the researchers reviewed studies from 1980 to 2021 focused on things like antisocial personality disorder, major depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

"Those serious mental health conditions are much higher amongst people experiencing homelessness when compared to the general population," Seitz said. "About eight times higher."

Darren Houle was without a permanent home for almost two years. 

He says he’s suffered from mental health concerns for much of his life, and they were exacerbated being out on the street. 

"It’s hard to have everything — a big, beautiful home, a family, a job, your livelihood on your hands — to have it taken away so fast," he said. 

Those problems were compounded by drug and alcohol use. 

Houle was able to escape the cycle and his addictions with the help of his family and the Calgary Mustard Seed. 

He says therapy and counselling went a long way. 

"It made me figure out who I was, my problems and how to address them," he said. "It paved the way for me to better myself."

He’s been sober for two years and now lives in an affordable housing unit, looking for construction work. 

"Because I wanted to be a better role model for my son," Houle said. "That’s the most important thing for me."

"When we are able to support people and give them appropriate treatments, we see their functioning improves," Seitz said. "They're better able to get into the workforce and get grounded."

The findings are published in JAMA Psychiatry.

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