Concurrent mental health and substance use problems among street-involved youth

In brief

A person has concurrent disorders when they have both substance use and mental health problems. People with concurrent disorders are at greater risk of hospitalization, suicidal thinking or behaviour, poor treatment outcomes, as well as homelessness.

Previous research has found that homeless youth have high rates of mental health problems and substance use, but those studies didn’t look at these issues together. To better understand these issues, researchers interviewed 150 street-involved youth in Toronto.

To get the full story, check out EENet’s new Research Snapshot of the article, “Concurrent Mental Health and Substance Use Problems among Street-Involved Youth,” by Maritt Kirst, Tyler Frederick, and Patricia G. Erickson. The article appeared in the International Journal on Mental Health and Addiction, vol. 9, no. 5 (2011): 543-53. The Snapshot is available on the EENet website. 

Research Snapshots are brief, clear language summaries of research articles, presented in a user-friendly format.

Read it below or download the PDF.

What you need to know

One in four youth has concurrent mental health and substance use problems. This puts them at greater risk of abuse, arrest, and continued homelessness.

What is this research about?

A concurrent disorder is when someone has both substance use and mental health problems. People with concurrent disorders are at greater risk of hospitalization, suicidality, homelessness, and poor treatment outcomes. Research has found that homeless youth have high rates of mental health problems and substance use, but studies have never looked at these issues together. This report explores the predictors of concurrent substance use and mental health problems among street-involved youth.

What did the researchers do?

Researchers from Ontario interviewed 150 street-involved youth in Toronto. The youth were aged 16-21. The researchers asked the participants questions about their mental health and their drug use, as well as questions about their experience with homelessness.

What did the researchers find?

The researchers found that 1 in 4 street-involved youth have concurrent substance use and mental health problems. Youth with concurrent problems relocate more, and these youth have experienced more abuse and arrest than youth without concurrent problems. Street-involved youth with concurrent problems are also almost 4 times more likely to have been victimized in the last 12 months.

How can you use this research?

Mental healthcare providers may be interested in this study. Treatment services for mental health issues and for addiction are often delivered separately. This can pose challenges of access and effective treatment for street-involved youth with concurrent substance use and mental health problems.

Potential limitations?

Future studies may investigate the direction of causality – that is, whether concurrent disorders cause more instability and victimization, or the other way around. Further research may also follow these youth for longer periods of time to get a better understanding of the predictors of concurrent disorders.

About the researchers

Maritt Kirst is an Assistant Professor at the Ontario Tobacco Research Unit and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto (U of T) in Toronto, Ontario.

Tyler Frederick is a Post-Doctoral Research Fellow at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Toronto, ON. Patricia G. Erickson is a Senior Scientist at CAMH and an Adjunct Professor with the Centre for Criminology and Sociolegal Studies at U of T, both in Toronto, Ontario. maritt [dot] kirst [at] utoronto [dot] ca

This Research Snapshot is based on their article “Concurrent Mental Health and Substance Use Problems among Street-Involved Youth,” which was published in the International Journal on Mental Health and Addiction, vol. 9, no. 5 (2011): 543-53.

Keywords: Concurrent disorders, street youth, mental health, substance use, homelessness, Canada

This Research Snapshot is based on an article that has been critically appraised for quality and susceptibility to bias.

EENet has partnered with the Knowledge Mobilization Unit at York University to produce Research Snapshots in the field of mental health and addictions in Ontario. This summary was written by Maia Miller.

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