The Prevalence of Specific Psychiatric Disorders Among Homeless Individuals in the Inner City of Los Angeles

Published In: Archives of General Psychiatry, v. 45, no. 12, Dec. 1988, p. 1085-1092

Posted on RAND.org on December 31, 1987

by Paul Koegel, M. Audrey Burnam, Rodger K. Farr

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Lifetime and current prevalence of Diagnostic Interview Schedule/DSM-III disorders were determined for a probability sample of homeless adults in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles. Compared with findings from a household sample, prevalence was substantially higher for every disorder assessed. Rates of major mental illnesses were the most disproportionately high. Substance abuse was more highly prevalent among older individuals and Native Americans, while schizophrenia was most highly prevalent among those subjects between 31 and 40 years of age. Rates of both substance abuse and schizophrenia were elevated among individuals who had been homeless many times or for long periods of time. It was estimated that 28% of subjects in this inner-city homeless sample were chronically mentally ill, a percentage that was consistent with results of well-designed studies employing nondiagnostic standardized measures of mental illness, but lower than results of studies relying on clinical judgment to assess the prevalence of specific disorders. There is a need for simultaneous attention to the social welfare and mental health needs of homeless mentally ill individuals.

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