Latest release

Mental health and experiences of homelessness

Data on people who have or do not have a mental health condition, and their experiences of homelessness in the past

Reference period
2014
Released
13/05/2016
Next release Unknown
First release

Introduction

For many people with a mental illness, achieving and maintaining a stable home can prove difficult [1]. Mental health issues combined with homelessness can have a large impact on individuals, families and communities, and can influence a person’s health, economic security, level of social support and level of access to, and use of, health services. The 2014 General Social Survey (GSS) provided the opportunity to examine the relationship between mental health and homelessness.

This publication examines data on people aged 15 years and over who reported having had an experience of homelessness in their lifetime, by whether or not they reported having a mental health condition. As the GSS only surveyed people currently living in private dwellings, data relates to people’s past experiences of homelessness only and does not include information on people who are currently homeless. For example it does not include: people currently living in shelters; people sleeping rough; people 'couch surfing' (staying temporarily with other households); people staying in boarding houses; nor does it specifically ask about the experience of living in severely crowded dwellings.

Endnotes

  1. Morrison, S., March 2009, “Mental Health, Housing and Homelessness in Australia”, Home Truths, pp. 7, https://mhaustralia.org/sites/default/files/imported/component/rsfiles/publications/MHCA_Home_Truths_Layout_FINAL.pdf.

Overview of homelessness in 2014

The Australian Bureau of Statistics defines a person as having experienced homelessness when they do not have suitable accommodation alternatives and if their current living arrangement:

  • Is in a dwelling that is inadequate; or
  • Has no tenure, or their initial tenure is short and not extendable; or
  • Does not allow them to have control of, and access to, space for social relations.[1]
     

In 2014, 2.5 million Australians (13%) aged 15 years and over reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives, with more than half of these people (1.4 million) having had an episode of homelessness in the last 10 years.[2] Overall, males and females were just as likely to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime (14% and 13% respectively).

Download

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014


More information on experiences of homelessness is available in General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia (cat. no. 4159.0).

Endnotes

  1. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2012, Information Paper – A Statistical Definition of Homelessness, 2012 (cat. no. 4922.0),  http://www.abs.gov.au/AUSSTATS/abs@.nsf/mf/4922.0 Last accessed 29/04/2016.
  2. Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014, General Social Survey: Summary Results, Australia, 2014 (cat. no. 4159.0), http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/mf/4159.0 Last accessed 29/04/2016.

Mental health experiences of homelessness

The GSS collected information about long-term health conditions, including mental health conditions, for the first time in 2014. People aged 15 years and over were asked if they had ever been told by a doctor or nurse that they had a mental health condition that had lasted or was expected to last 6 months or more. In 2014, 3.4 million people (18%) reported having a mental health condition, including depression or feeling depressed, behavioural or emotional disorders, dependence on drugs or alcohol, feeling anxious or nervous, or problems learning or understanding things.

People who reported having a mental health condition were more than twice as likely to have experienced homelessness in their lifetime, compared with people who did not (25% compared with 10%). People who reported a mental health condition were also more than twice as likely to have experienced homelessness in the last 10 years compared with people who did not (15% compared with 6.1%).

The following flow-chart outlines the percentage of the population that reported having experienced homelessness by whether they reported having a mental health condition.
 

Figure 1: Experience of homelessness flow-chart

Image: Flow-chart outlining the percentage of the population aged 15 years and over who have experienced homelessness by whether or not they had a mental health condition.

Figure 1: Experience of homelessness flow-chart

Conceptual framework that shows the total number of people in Australia aged 15 years and over (18,485,900 people; 100%), split by whether they have a mental health condition or not, whether they have ever experienced homelessness or not, and whether they have experienced homelessness in the last 10 years or not. Having a mental health condition is defined as people who have ever been told by a doctor or nurse that they have a mental health condition, and that this condition has lasted or is expected to last 6 months or more.

There were 3,364,200 people (18.2% of the total Australian population) who had a mental health condition. These people are split by whether they had ever experienced homelessness (844,400 people; 4.6% of the total Australian population) or not (2,521,700 people; 13.6% of the total Australian population). Of those with a mental health condition and who had ever experienced homelessness, 504,400 people (2.7% of the total Australian population) had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years while 341,200 people (1.8% of the total Australian population) had not.

There were 15,117,900 people (81.8% of the total Australian population) who did not have a mental health condition. These people are split by whether they had ever experienced homelessness (1,634,800 people; 8.8% of the total Australian population) or not (13,489,400 people; 73.0% of the total Australian population). Of those who did not have a mental health condition and who had ever experienced homelessness, 919,000 people (5.0% of the total Australian population) had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years while 713,400 people (3.9% of the total Australian population) had not.
  1. Has ever been told by a doctor or nurse that they have a mental health condition that has lasted or is expected to last 6 months or more.
     

In 2014, one in three people (34%) aged 25-34 years who reported having a mental health condition had experienced homelessness in their lifetime, compared with one in eight people (13%) of the same age who did not have a mental health condition. Similarly, people aged 35-44 years and 45-54 years who reported having a mental health condition had relatively high rates of experiencing homelessness (32% and 31% respectively).

Download

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014 


Of people living in most disadvantaged areas of Australia, one in three people (34%) with a reported mental health condition had experienced homelessness in their lifetime, compared with one in six people (15%) without a mental health condition. This pattern was consistent irrespective of level of disadvantage; of people living in the least disadvantaged areas, one in five people (20%) with a reported mental health condition had experienced homelessness compared with one in twelve people (7.9%) without a mental health condition.

Download
  1. Index of Relative Socio-economic Disadvantage. A lower quintile (e.g. Quintile 1) indicates an area with relatively greater disadvantage. A higher quintile (e.g. Quintile 5) indicates an area with a relative lack of disadvantage.

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014


In 2014, 43% of people aged 15-64 years with a reported mental health condition were not in the labour force (that is, without a job and not actively looking for work), compared with 29% of people without a mental health condition.

Of people who had a reported mental health condition, almost one-third (32%) who were not in the labour force had experienced homelessness in their lifetime, compared with one-quarter of people (26%) who were in the labour force.

Download
  1. People aged 15-64 years.

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014
 

Reasons for most recent episode of homelessness

Of the 844,400 people reporting a mental health condition who had experienced homelessness in their lifetime, 504,400 (60%) had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years. The GSS asked these people about the reasons for their most recent episode.

Over half of the people (51%) with a reported mental health condition who had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years reported family or violence problems as a reason for their homelessness, similar to people without a mental health condition (45%). Almost one in three people (30%) with a reported mental health condition stated financial issues as a reason for their most recent episode of homelessness, similar to people without a mental health condition (33%).

For people with a reported mental health condition, 17% stated health related problems as a reason for their most recent episode of homelessness, compared with only 3.2% of people without a mental health condition. Of people reporting a mental health condition, males were more than twice as likely as females to report health related problems as a cause for their homelessness (24% compared with 11% respectively).

Download
  1. Reasons for most recent experience of homelessness.

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014

Seeking assistance while homeless

In addition to people with a reported mental health condition being more likely to experience homelessness in the last 10 years than people without a mental health condition, they were also more likely to have sought assistance from service organisations (44% compared with 27%). Examples of service organisations include housing service providers and organised community or crisis accommodation. Almost three-quarters of people (72%) with a reported mental health condition stated that the service organisation(s) were of assistance, while 26% stated the organisation(s) were not of assistance.

Employment status and level of education were related to the likelihood of people who reported a mental health condition seeking assistance during their most recent episode of homelessness. Of people aged 15-64 years reporting a mental health condition, people not in the labour force were more likely than people in the labour force to have sought assistance (67% compared with 30%).

Over half of people (55%) with a reported mental health condition who had experienced homelessness in the last 10 years had a qualification higher than a year 12 certificate. Of people aged 18 years or older reporting a mental health condition, people with year 12 qualifications or lower were more likely than people with a qualification higher than a year 12 certificate to have sought assistance during their most recent experience of homelessness (57% compared with 36%).

Download
  1. People who sought assistance during their most recent experience of homelessness in the last 10 years.
  2. People aged 18 years and over.

Source(s): General Social Survey, 2014

Duration of most recent experience of homelessness

Of people reporting a mental health condition, 35% said their most recent episode of homelessness was for less than one month, while 39% reported a duration of one to six months. Around one-quarter (26%) were homeless for more than six months. These proportions were similar to those not reporting a mental health condition.

People living in areas of more disadvantage were more likely to report longer episodes of homelessness than people living in areas of less disadvantage. More than one-third of people (35%) reporting a mental health condition living in the most disadvantaged areas of Australia said that their most recent episode of homelessness had lasted for more than six months, compared with around one-sixth of people (15%) in the least disadvantaged areas.

Data downloads

Table 1: Persons with or without a mental health condition by experience of homelessness

Table 2: Persons with or without a mental health condition by reason for most recent experience of homelessness in last 10 years

Table 3: Persons with or without a mental health condition by duration of most recent experience of homelessness in last 10 years

Table 4: Persons with or without a mental health condition by service organisation(s) contacted during most recent experience of homelessness in last 10 years

Table 5: Persons with or without a mental health condition by whether organisation(s) were of assistance during most recent experience of homelessness in last 10 years

Previous catalogue number

This release previously used catalogue number 4329.0.00.005.