The Silent Struggle: Impact of Homelessness on Young People's Mental Health in the UK

More than 129,000 people under the age of 25 ask for help with homelessness in the UK every year. It is estimated that 6,000 of them are in Wales. The experience of being homeless goes beyond the absence of a physical shelter; it penetrates the very core of your well-being, often leaving long lasting scars on mental health. Many people think that the job of a homelessness charity will be to provide safe accommodation; a safe place to stay. But it is very clear to Llamau that for most people who are facing homelessness, their problems are far more complex than a lack of permanent shelter. 

Being homeless affects every part of your life. Sleeping outside or juggling an ever-changing network of sofas and floors is challenging and exhausting. Mental health issues can be easily exacerbated. Dealing with all of this while you're still young, trying to study and get qualifications or trying to hold down a job, is more than most people could handle. 

Constant Stress and Anxiety:
Being homeless is a daily battle for survival. Young people facing homelessness in the UK often experience chronic stress and anxiety, unsure of where they will find their next meal or where they will sleep the following night. This perpetual uncertainty contributes significantly to heightened levels of stress, potentially leading to anxiety disorders.

Social Isolation and Stigmatization:
Experiencing homelessness can lead to profound social isolation as young people often withdraw from their peers due to shame and stigma. The feeling of being judged or ostracized by society can be overwhelming, exacerbating feelings of loneliness and isolation. This social exclusion can contribute to the development or exacerbation of mental health issues such as depression.

Loss of Identity and Self-Worth:
For young people experiencing homelessness, the struggle to maintain a sense of identity and self-worth is constant. The loss of stable housing often comes with the loss of personal belongings, an established routine, and a place to call home. This loss can erode self-esteem and make it challenging to envision a positive future.

Limited Access to Mental Health Services:
The homeless youth population in the UK faces barriers in accessing mental health services. Stigma, lack of awareness, and the complexities of life on the streets make it difficult for young individuals to seek and receive the necessary support. This lack of access exacerbates mental health challenges and can lead to conditions going on untreated.

Impact on Education and Employment Opportunities:
Homelessness disrupts the education and employment trajectories of young people. The constant struggle for survival often takes precedence over pursuing education or finding stable employment, limiting opportunities for personal and professional growth. This lack of stability further compounds mental health challenges.

Trauma and Vulnerability to Substance Abuse:
Homelessness exposes young individuals to traumatic experiences, including violence, exploitation, and abuse. The vulnerability to such experiences increases the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and may lead to coping mechanisms such as substance abuse as a means of escaping the harsh realities of life on the streets.

Addressing the mental health challenges faced by young people experiencing homelessness in Wales requires a comprehensive and compassionate approach. Efforts should be made to not only provide immediate shelter and support but also to address the root causes of homelessness, including poverty, family breakdowns, and lack of affordable housing. By creating a more supportive and inclusive environment, we can work towards breaking the cycle of homelessness and mitigating the severe impact it has on the mental health of young individuals.

A lot of Llamau’s work is centred around prevention – early intervention has proven, positive outcomes and saves so much pain. We believe that it is crucial that we intervene early to support young homeless people. Without support and opportunities, the homeless young people of today are very likely to become the homeless people of tomorrow.