Alcohol, drugs, and psychiatric comorbidity among homeless women: An epidemiologic study

E. M. Smith, Carol S North, E. L. Spitznagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

104 Scopus citations

Abstract

Background: Very little is known about the mental health of homeless women. The present study is one of the first to focus on psychiatric diagnosis and comorbidity in a population of homeless women systematically interviewed with a structured instrument. Method: Three hundred homeless women randomly selected from St. Louis shelters were interviewed using the Diagnostic Interview Schedule (DIS). Results: The population of homeless women in St. Louis is predominantly young adult, single, and black: most have young children and average nearly a high school education. Schizophrenia and bipolar affective disorder account for only a small portion of the mental illness in these women. Nearly one in three has a history of substance abuse, with drug abuse being more prevalent than alcoholism. One third of the sample met lifetime criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder. One fourth of the women have received inpatient psychiatric care, and the majority with a nonsubstance Axis 1 diagnosis have received some mental health treatment. Conclusion: Although major mental illness is overrepresented among these homeless women, the majority do not suffer from major mental illness. Despite the severity of the stressors these women face, the large numbers escaping psychiatric disorders speak to their resilience and to the likelihood that important factors other than mental illness contribute to their homelessness. Future studies to examine positive outcomes and investigate protective factors might provide a valuable source of information on coping with the stresses associated with homelessness and point to more effective interventions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)82-87
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Clinical Psychiatry
Volume54
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health

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