Current research has implicated a role for cognitive and emotional processes in the pathways to becoming homeless. Evidence implicates three risk factors, which are often associated with an increased incidence of homelessness: paranoid thinking, emotion regulation, and engaging in maladaptive behaviours. Maladaptive behaviours include deliberate self‐harm, substance misuse, and high‐risk sexual practices. Currently, no studies have investigated the specific psychological mechanisms, such as difficulty regulating emotions, which underpin the association between paranoia and maladaptive behaviours.
A mediational design was employed in a group of homeless individuals. Method: Participants (N = 40), who were homeless at the time of the study, completed a single‐session assessment of paranoia, emotion regulation, and maladaptive behaviours.
Mediation analyses indicated that individuals scoring high on paranoia were more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviours, particularly substance misuse and aggression, when they had difficulty regulating their emotions. These results demonstrate a novel finding relating to the effect of emotion regulation in maintaining psychopathology and behaviours in vulnerable individuals, which may in turn sustain periods of homelessness.
Emotion regulation may therefore be one particular psychological mechanism through which severe mental illness affects engagement in self‐destructive behaviours in homelessness. These findings have valuable clinical implications for targeted therapeutic interventions, in this often difficult to treat homeless population.
- Practitioner points
- Psychosis is over‐represented in the homeless population; the cycle of homelessness may be attenuated by addressing psychotic symptomology.
- Homeless individuals engage in drug abuse, self‐harm, aggression, and high‐risk sexual practices due to an inability to regulate distressing emotions effectively.
- Therapeutic interventions, such as MBT and DBT, which target emotion regulation difficulties, may be useful in reducing maladaptive behaviours and preventing homelessness, by providing emotion regulation strategies to cope when homeless persons become distressed.