By Healthy Living News
A new study shows that homeless individuals, especially those suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, have a death rate significantly higher and a life expectancy that is significantly shorter than those with homes. The study, recently published in the journal The Lancet, collected data on people in homeless shelters using Denmark’s nationwide homeless registry. The data consisted of 32,711 homeless people, aged 16 years and up, who where homeless between 1999 and 2009.
To determine the rate of death and life expectancy, researchers separated the homeless registry data into several groups. These included those with psychiatric disorders, those with a history of substance abuse, those with a dual diagnosis of both, and those who had no such diagnosis.
Researchers then compared their rate of death, or mortality, to that of the general population. They discovered that for those homeless, the rate of death was 6.7 times higher for women and 5.6 times higher for men. The group with substance abuse disorders had the highest mortality of any of the homeless groups, followed by those with a dual diagnosis. Information on the causes of death, when available, showed that suicide and violence accounted for more than a quarter of them.
”There was a larger disparity in life expectancy between the homeless shelter population and the general population than previous studies have found,” said study author, Dr. Sandra Nielsen.
The study also revealed that homelessness can cut short lives for those who are still young. For those homeless, age 15-24 years, their estimated life expectancy was, respectively, 21 and 17 years lower than men and women in the general population.
Regardless of age, however, Dr. Nielsen said that the death disparity confirms that homeless people living in shelters constitute a high-risk, marginalized population whose physical and mental health needs require more attention.
In an accompanying commentary in The Lancet, Professor John Geddes and Dr. Seena Fazel of Oxford University wrote that more work needs to be done to end death disparities among the homeless. That includes improved integrated psychiatric and substance abuse treatment to better address the problem.
Another concern regarding the study was its country of origin. Denmark provides free health care and a substantial social-service and housing support infrastructure. These should be helping alleviate death disparities among the homeless.
The Lancet commentary also pointed out potential cross-border differences in data.
”International comparison of studies of homelessness,” it noted…”is made harder by the different social and housing systems between developing and more developed countries, and between small well-organized and highly socially integrated Nordic countries and larger more heterogeneous countries such as the USA.”
The commentary added that the situation is likely to be worse in countries with less well-organized welfare systems.
And fixing the death disparity problem for the homeless is now even a more daunting challenge. The crash in housing markets and the recent recession has increased homelessness in the U.S. and Europe, all while social services are being cut due to severe government financial restrictions.