WEDNESDAY, Feb. 2 (HealthDayNews) -- A full 15 percent of Americans with serious mental illness are currently homeless, a much higher figure than suggested by previous research, a new study finds.
The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine, urged more action to reduce this problem. They believe homelessness among those with serious mental illness could be reduced or prevented by providing individuals with substance abuse treatment and helping them obtain public-funded health benefits.
Because the homeless mentally ill are more than twice as likely to be hospitalized as mentally ill people with housing, improving care for homeless people with serious mental illness may be cost effective, the researchers add. At the very least, they say, improvements in care should improve outcomes with only moderate increases in expenditure.
The researchers tracked 10,340 people with serious mental illness -- both homeless and those with housing -- in San Diego.
People with schizophrenia
or bipolar disorders, substance abusers, and those without publicly-funded health care were most likely to be homeless, they found. Men were more likely to be without housing than women, and blacks were more likely to be homeless than either Hispanics or Asians.
The study appears in the February issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry
"Homelessness is an increasingly important public health issue, with seriously mentally ill persons most at risk for homelessness," study senior author Dr. Dilip Jeste, a professor of psychiatry and neurosciences and director of the UCSD Sam and Rose Stein Institute for Research on Aging, said in a prepared statement.
"In addition to the trauma experienced by these individuals, there is also a cost to society. Homeless persons have a significantly more frequent use of expensive emergency services and are more likely to spend more time in jail," Jeste added.
The U.S. Center for Mental Health Services has more about homelessness (www.nrchmi.samhsa.gov