Mental Illness and Homelessness - Notes from the Alliance for Research Progress at NIMH

written by naehblog
July 26, 2010

Pete Witte
Today’s post comes to us from the newest member of the Alliance staff, research associate Peter Witte.

On Friday, July 23, I had the opportunity to attend the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) summer meeting of the Alliance for Research Progress in Bethesda, Maryland. The Alliance for Research Progress is a group of advocates that represent national organizations (like ours) with an interest in mental health. The group meets twice a year to discuss the mental health field and hear about NIMH research activities and priorities.

About 45 percent of homeless people report that they have experienced an indicator of a mental health problem. Homeless people also report a high level of substance abuse problems. It’s critical that groups invested in ending homelessness – like the Alliance – take part in the dialogue about mental illness and hear about the latest research because so many people experiencing homelessness could benefit the information. (For more information on the relationship between homelessness and mental and physical health, see our “Issues” section.)

Lisa J. Colpe, Chief in the Office of Clinical and Population Epidemiology Research, presented about the Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Service Members (Army STARRS) project. The project is investigating “factors that help protect a soldier’s mental health and those factors that put a soldier’s mental health at risk.”

As an organization that has worked hard to address homelessness among veterans, this presentation was an illuminating look at what we can do to protect the mental health of our service men and women. It’s promising to note that steps are being taken to ease the transition back into civilian life and alleviate the trauma that can occur during active duty – two elements that can contribute to veterans homelessness.

The last presentation, filled with graphics and stats, provided a view on mental health across the world. Pamela Collins, Director of the Office for Research on Disparities & Global Mental Health, presented, “Mental Health Disparities: A Global Perspective.” One theme in the presentation was that human resources for mental health services in low-income countries are much lower than that of higher income countries. While this may seem obvious, it does reiterate the long-standing notion that more resources are necessary to address and combat mental illness – and that those most vulnerable can be those with the fewest resources.

The meeting also included remarks by NIMH Director Dr. Thomas Insel, who presented the “State of the NIMH.” Insel noted that mental illnesses and disorders are not currently treated successfully enough and that better treatment is needed in all spheres of remedy (prescription, cognitive and behavioral therapy). For example, he noted, medications for autism and schizophrenia have poor success rates and are rarely sufficient enough treatments. He also emphasized that NIMH has the opportunity to improve intervention techniques and treatments for many debilitating mental illnesses and disorders. Current and future research activities will help lead the way.

We at the Alliance join NIMH in their commitment to improve the lives of those experiencing mental disability or illness – and specifically those also experiencing homelessness. The challenges presented by both conditions are daunting and likely must be overcome with the cooperation and collaboration of experts, advocates, services providers, and dedicated people like you.