Finding resources to help homeless people with mental illness

TUCSON, Ariz. - According to the Tucson Pima Collaboration to End Homelessness, from last year the amount of homeless people on the streets has decreased from the previous ones. 

TPCH says nearly 1,500 people are homeless as of January 2018 and nearly half of them suffer from substance abuse disorder or mental illness. 

MORE: How can I get help with my substance abuse issue and mental health condition?

An estimated 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters live with serious mental illness and an estimated 46% live with severe mental illness and/or substance use disorders

Shauna Strickler has been homeless for the last few years. She says she used to be addicted to cocaine and suffers from Post-traumatic Stress disorder (PTSD) and has Bipolar Disorder

The PTSD came from being verbally and physically abused. 

Symptoms for PTSD: 

Persistent Re-experiencing. A person experiences one or more of the following:

  • Recurrent nightmares or flashbacks
  • Recurrent images or memories of the event 
  • Intense distress at reminders of the trauma
  • Physical reactions to triggers that symbolize or resemble the event 

Avoidant/Numbness Responses. A person experiences three or more of the following:

  • Efforts to avoid feelings or triggers associated with the trauma 
  • Avoidance of activities, places or people that remind the person of the trauma 
  • Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma 
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Restricted range of feelings 
  • Difficulty thinking about the long-term future
  • Increased Arousal 

A person experiences two or more of the following:

  • Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep 
  • Outbursts of anger/irritability
  •  Difficulty concentrating  
  • Increased vigilance that may be maladaptive
  • Exaggerated startle response

What is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and who is at risk?

Combat, sexual assault, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack are examples of traumatic psychological events that can cause PTSD. These severely traumatic events often have a direct physical impact and occur within a violent context. Veterans who have been injured in combat are at high risk for PTSD because they have sustained a direct injury in a violent setting. Survivors of rape have experienced physical and emotional trauma which is associated with very high rates of posttraumatic responses. These events can be a single occurrence in a person’s lifetime or they can occur repeatedly, such as in the case of ongoing physical abuse or an extended or repeated tour of duty in a war zone. The severity of traumatic events and duration of exposure are critical risk factors for developing PTSD.

"At times it's very hard with the bipolar disorder because I have anxiety and I get upset and when I get upset I want to scream and hit and I know I can't here," says Strickler. 

Symptoms of mania are as follows:

  • Extreme happiness for an extended period of time
  • An abnormally increased level of irritability
  • Overconfidence or an extremely inflated self-esteem
  •  Increased talkativeness
  • Decreased amount of sleep
  •  Risky behavior, such as spending sprees and impulsive sex
  • Racing thoughts, jumping quickly from one idea to another
  • Distractibility
  • Agitation or “jumpiness.”

Symptoms of depression are as follows:

  • Diminished capacity for pleasure or loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • A long period of feeling hopeless or helpless with low self-esteem
  • Decreased amount of energy and constant fatigue
  •  Inability to concentrate and make simple decisions
  • Changes in eating, sleeping or other daily habits
  • Agitation or slow movement, speech or thought
  • Thoughts of death or suicide attempts.

Recently, Strickler says she has been receiving help from the Salvation Army and has been trying to become dependent. "I don't like being homeless, I'm ready to be on my own but I know it takes some time." 

MORE: Mental Illness, Poverty And How The Other Half Lives

For about 15 years, the Salvation Army has partnered with, El Rio Health, to provide people in need with medical services. 

Once a week the medical staff sets up in the Salvation Army's cafeteria and speak with the people staying at the shelter. 

MORE: Securing stable housing

"You know it's difficult for people with mental health issues to really have to advocate for themselves and to navigate mental health services, the behavioral health clinic, it can be a real labyrinth so that's why it's nice that El Rio has behavioral health because it's more seamless." 

El Rio staff say they help provide their patients by prescribing medication and even provide free transportation for them to arrive at their doctor appointments. 

Strickler says she dreams of one day working in the medical field and her goal is to have her own home soon.

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