The Connection Between Homelessness And Mental Health

Chiamaka Mbajiorgu, Research Volunteer, Homeless Not Hopeless Nigeria

10th October 2023


Every night, hundreds of thousands of Nigerians across the nation are forced to sleep on the streets. These people may be victims of floods, fire outbreaks, or terror attacks; they may be running from domestic violence; or are put in this situation for various other reasons. The population of Nigerians who are homeless is over 24.4 million people!


The United Nations Office of The High Commissioner for Human Rights defines homelessness as a state of “not having stable, safe and adequate housing, nor the means and ability to obtain it.”


According to Wikipedia, Nigeria is the 6th largest country by population with over 218 million people living in it, and roughly 13% of these people, do not have a permanent and secure place that they can call home. To top it all off, the mental trauma of having to constantly worry and scavenge for basic things like food, clean water, shelter for the night, clean clothes, etc., contributes immensely to the development of mental illness among the homeless.


In an article published by Psychiatric Times, homelessness has been shown to not just aggravate mental illnesses but is also closely related to poor mental health.


In this article, we will be diving deeper and looking into:


• Some common mental health disorders seen among the homeless population of Nigeria.


• The connection between homelessness and mental health.


• Practical suggestions on how to tackle the issue of homelessness in Nigeria.


Common Types of Mental Health Disorders Seen Among the Homeless Population of Nigeria


Disorders such as schizophrenia, anxiety, depression, etc., are commonly seen among the homeless population of Nigeria.


With proper medical attention and counselling, these disorders can be managed appropriately. However, homeless Nigerians rarely have the financial support to seek proper medical care and are often dismissed by healthcare professionals when they manage to do so.


This causes a vicious cycle and leads to the vast prevalence of these types of disorders among homeless Nigerian citizens.


What is the Connection Between Homelessness and Poor Mental Health?


1.Steady housing provides a sense of security.

Having a safe and dependable place to go back to after the stress and struggles of the day, improves mental health.


In fact, research has shown that incidences of depression, anxiety, etc. are less likely to occur (or are handled more efficiently) in people who have steady housing and have a social support system, (example a family), to go back to at the end of each day.


The reason for this is simple: with steady housing comes a sense of security, and a safe place to fall back on when the stress of everyday life becomes overwhelming.


Being homeless leaves one under constant exposure to the elements and thus the homeless are vulnerably exposed. This leads to them living under persistent suspicion of their environment because their guard always has to be up. Living in this condition can cause a state of paranoia, which paves the way for anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and a dozen other mental health issues.


Therefore, having a house or a place to call your own, provides shelter on cold nights or during extremely hot days. And having this kind of security is pivotal to every human being’s physical, emotional and most importantly, mental health.


2.Lack of social stimulation leads to poor mental health


A friendly handshake from someone you just met, or a smile from a friend…


These are examples of everyday experiences that are very common to the average person but to the homeless, these simple acts of socialization are a luxury they rarely get to have.


As shown in Medical News Today, human beings need social stimulation (in the form of relationships, friendships and other forms of social interaction) to sustain a good standard of life, as socializing can prevent neurodegenerative diseases and greatly improve one’s mental state.


Without adequate social stimulation in the homeless community, mental health steadily declines.


3.The homeless feel invisible


When interviewed, homeless people often talk about how they feel invisible, as most people on the streets just pass them by while trying so hard not to look at them.


This feeling of invisibility crushes their sense of self-esteem, and self-worth (which is pivotal for a healthy and functional mind), and as a result, people experiencing homelessness tend to come down with suicidal thoughts.


How Can We Improve Mental Health Among The Nigerian Homeless Community?


1. At the Government Level


• Provide Steady Housing: Lack of safe and steady housing plays a major role in the declining mental health of the homeless, so the primary solution should be: HOUSING.


According to The Guardian, it has been shown that Finland has developed a system that has produced rapidly declining rates of homeless people in their country (about ”35% decline of homelessness since this system’s inception in 2008”)


This system is termed the Housing First Policy.


Simply put, the government of Finland believes that access to safe housing is a basic human right that lays the foundation for a stable and productive life for its citizens and so the government provides permanent and subsidized housing to the homeless population.


While in these houses, social and health care workers are offered to them and are brought in to help rehabilitate and reintegrate the homeless back into normal human life.


After this is done, they can now go on to secure jobs of their own and begin paying the rent for their houses gradually.


If this system is adopted and sustained in Nigeria, massive changes will be seen.


2. At the Individual Level:


• Be Empathetic


A brief smile or greeting, some naira notes in their outstretched hands or simply a donation of some clothes you don’t use anymore to a homeless person in your local area.


All these expressions of kindness and empathy can make a big difference to the homeless community living around you.




Homelessness has a huge impact on one’s mental health and can cause a variety of mental health disorders. So, there is a need to tackle this issue of homelessness at both the government and individual level to improve the quality of life in our great nation Nigeria.




1.Balasuriya, L. et al. (2020, May 29). The never-ending loop: homelessness, psychiatric disorder and mortality. Psychiatric Times.


2.Cohut, M. (2018, Febuary 23). What are the health benefits of being social? Medical News Today.


3.Henley, J. (2019, June 3). It’s a miracle: Helsinki’s radical solution to homelessness. The Guardian.


4.Roberts, J. (2020, May 1). 10 facts about homelessness in Nigeria. The Borden Project.,reside%20in%20%E2%80%9Cinformal%20settlements.%E2%80%9D


5.United Nations Human Rights Office Of The High Commissioner. (n.d). Homelessness and human rights; special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing.


6.Walker, J. (2019, July 31). Invisible in plain sight: fighting loneliness in the homeless community. Open Democracy.


7.Wikipedia. (2022, September 25). Demographics of Nigeria.


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