Report launch highlights homeless people’s need for 24/7 access to mental health services


Mental Health Reform and the Dublin Simon Community have today (15/06/2017) launched a joint research report, ‘Homelessness and Mental Health: Voices of Experience’, highlighting the personal stories of people who experience both homelessness and mental health difficulties. The launch was attended by the Minister of State for Mental Health and Older People, Helen McEntee, TD.

Speaking at the launch, the Homeless Adults Speak Out on Mental Health Group, who were involved in advising on the research, said, “While there are many problems for people who are homeless in getting the mental health support that they need when they need it, two important issues identified in this report are: Inadequate access to quality crisis mental health support on a 24/7 basis; and difficulties getting access to mental health services if you have both an addiction and mental health difficulty.”

The group continued, “Homeless people usually have to go to A+E if they are in crisis. However we think that this is not a practical solution. Most homeless people won’t go to A+E in the first place because they know how they’re going to be treated. The solution is to develop and deliver a 24 hour 7 day a week direct access community mental health service for homeless people already engaged in the mental health services.”

Mental Health Reform Director, Dr. Shari McDaid explained, “This report explores homeless people’s interactions with mental health services and takes a rare look at homeless people’s own perspectives of the barriers they face in accessing mental health supports.”

Dr. McDaid continued, “The findings illustrate the struggle homeless people face in accessing mental health services including bureaucratic barriers, the double stigma of homelessness and mental health difficulties, and being denied mental health care due to having a substance misuse issue. We know that severe mental health difficulties are more prevalent among homeless people than the general population, therefore it’s crucial that their pathways into services are easy and that the service they receive is respectful and compassionate. The Government needs to act to ensure that mental health services are fully accessible to everyone, including homeless people.”

Speaking about the report, Claire McSweeney, Head of Emergency Services in Dublin Simon Community said, “Many of the people we work with have been exposed to some form of previous trauma, and can often have severe mental health and substance use issues. The experiences of people in this report, emphasises the need for services for people with severe and enduring mental health and addiction issues, aswell as for those experiencing less severe mental health difficulties, such as anxiety and depression, with problematic alcohol and/or drug use.”

In response to the need for mental health support and care amongst their clients, Dublin Simon Community established the Sure Steps Counselling service.

“Sure Steps has removed and relaxed some of the traditional barriers that often prevent clients experiencing homelessness from accessing mainstream services, and clients with an active addiction can access the service. In addition to one-to-one counselling, Sure Steps offers drop-in clinics in some of our housing services as well as in the Mobile Health Unit for people who are rough sleeping, on-demand crisis intervention for people with suicidal ideation or who are in emotional distress, as well as a variety of emotional wellbeing groups.”

“We have seen a significant uptake in this vital service and have greatly expanded it over the past four years. The main success of this service is that counselling and support goes to where our clients are staying, with flexible session times and lengths. However, this Sure Steps Counselling is but one service and is a drop in the ocean when you look at the needs of our clients and the barriers that they face in accessing support and care. As we see from this report, there remains significant gaps in mental health services for people who are homeless.”

Claire McSweeney concluded; “Bricks and mortar alone will not solve the current homeless crisis and it is very clear that once a person becomes homeless, the deterioration in their physical and mental health can be both rapid and debilitating. Rapid access to support and specialised care, is vital to ensure that people can address what circumstances brought them to be where they are and provide the emotional supports for them to recover from the detrimental impact of homelessness.”


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