This study was designed to provide a representative description of the mental health of youth accessing homelessness services in Canada. It is the most extensive survey in this area to date and is intended to inform the development of mental health and addiction service and policy for this marginalized population.
This study reports mental health–related data from the 2015 “Leaving Home” national youth homelessness survey, which was administered through 57 agencies serving homeless youth in 42 communities across the country. This self-reported, point-in-time survey assessed a broad range of demographic information, pre-homelessness and homelessness variables, and mental health indicators.
Survey data were obtained from 1103 youth accessing Canadian homelessness services in the Nunavut territory and all Canadian provinces except for Prince Edward Island. Forty-two per cent of participants reported 1 or more suicide attempts, 85.4% fell in a high range of psychological distress, and key indicators of risk included an earlier age of the first episode of homelessness, female gender, and identifying as a sexual and/or gender minority (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and 2 spirit [LGBTQ2S]).
This study provides clear and compelling evidence of a need for mental health support for these youth, particularly LGBTQ2S youth and female youth. The mental health concerns observed here, however, must be considered in the light of the tremendous adversity in all social determinants faced by these youth, with population-level interventions best leveraged in prevention and rapid response.