Homeless people ‘face significant difficulty’ accessing mental health services

crisis homelessThe need for homeless people in Scotland to access help regarding their mental health is only partially being met by current services, a report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has found.

A small-scale study undertaken by the commission saw 43 homeless people in two local authority areas interviewed to understand how they accessed and experienced services for homelessness and mental ill-health. The commission also spoke to staff working in homelessness services.

The resulting report revealed that more than half of those interviewed said they experienced depression, 20 had experienced sexual or physical abuse, 14 had been in care and almost half had spent some time in prison.

While 37 people were registered with a GP, the commission heard about homeless people facing “significant difficulties” getting registered while those who were diagnosed with both mental ill health and addiction issues sometimes had difficulty in getting help.

Homelessness services told the commission that access to psychiatric services was “very difficult to arrange”, particularly out of hours, while the benefits system was “not set up well for homeless people”, and in particular for people with mental health problems.

The report also found that there is often a delay in accessing medication due to difficulties registering with a GP for those being released from prison while almost half of those spoken to admitting that they felt discriminated against, particularly by private landlords.

In response, the commission has called for NHS boards and social care partnerships to improve access to GPs and to consider the needs of homeless people in the local psychiatric emergency plan.

The commission also recommended that local authorities review how they provide appropriate aftercare for former looked after young people under the age of 26.

There is also a recommendation for the Scottish Government to ensure that the new Scottish agency set up to administer social security payments is fully accessible to people who are homeless.

Kate Fearnley, executive director, engagement and participation, Mental Welfare Commission, said: “This is a small scale study, through which we wanted to hear the views of just some of this particularly vulnerable group of people.

“We found that some people were receiving the care and treatment they needed, but others were not, or had difficulty accessing it.

“We saw engaged and committed staff in homelessness services supporting people with significant mental health needs, but lacking direct referral routes to psychiatric and psychological services. We heard that the only way of accessing those services was via a GP, but there could be barriers to registering.

“We also heard that there is a disconnect between mental health services and substance misuse services, and some people who need both may get neither. This issue has been recognised by government as an area in need of improvement in its new mental health strategy.”

Kate added: “This was an exploratory project in which we learned a lot about how best to reach this group.

“We had to take a different, more flexible, approach to the interviews and to information gathering, and we will now look for ways we can build this into our work in the future. We are grateful to all of the interviewees for sharing their experiences with us.”