11 July 2017
The Mental Welfare Commission published a new
report today on homelessness and mental ill health, and found a
picture of significant needs that were only partially being
For this small-scale study, Commission staff spoke to 43
homeless people in two local authority areas - one urban and one
rural. The Commission sought to understand how interviewees
accessed, and how they experienced, services for homelessness and
for mental ill health.
The report includes anonymised comments from interviewees,
giving their own views and experiences.
The Commission also spoke to staff working in homelessness
Kate Fearnley, executive director, engagement and participation,
Mental Welfare Commission, said:
"This is a small scale study, through which we wanted to hear
the views of just some of this particularly vulnerable group of
"We found that some people were receiving the care and treatment
they needed, but others were not, or had difficulty accessing
"We saw engaged and committed staff in homelessness services
supporting people with significant mental health needs, but lacking
direct referral routes to psychiatric and psychological services.
We heard that the only way of accessing those services was via a
GP, but there could be barriers to registering.
"We also heard that there is a disconnect between mental health
services and substance misuse services, and some people who need
both may get neither. This issue has been recognised by government
as an area in need of improvement in its new mental health
Key findings include:
- Thirty seven people were registered with a GP, but the
Commission heard about significant difficulties getting
- People who were diagnosed with both mental ill health and
addiction issues sometimes had difficulty in getting help.
- Homelessness services told the Commission that access to
psychiatric services was very difficult to arrange, particularly
out of hours.
- On release from prison there is often a delay in accessing
medication due to difficulties registering with a GP, and GPs'
reluctance to prescribe without input from a hospital
- The Commission was told that the benefits system is not set up
well for homeless people, and in particular for people with mental
- Seventeen of the 43 people spoken to felt they faced
discrimination, particularly from private landlords.
Over half of the 43 individuals spoken to said they experienced
depression. Twelve reported other diagnoses including bipolar
disorder and schizophrenia.
Almost half had spent some time in prison.
Twenty had experienced sexual or physical abuse.
Fourteen of the 43 had been looked-after children in the care of
a local authority, and three of the interviewees were in the 16 to
17 year old age group.
The Commission makes a number of recommendations in the report,
including calls for NHS boards and social care partnerships to
improve access to GPs and to consider the needs of homeless people
in the local psychiatric emergency plan.
The Commission also recommends that local authorities review how
they provide appropriate aftercare for former looked after young
people under the age of 26.
There is a recommendation for the Scottish Government to ensure
that the new Scottish agency set up to administer social security
payments is fully accessible to people who are homeless.
Kate Fearnley added:
"This was an exploratory project in which we learned a lot about
how best to reach this group.
"We had to take a different, more flexible, approach to the
interviews and to information gathering, and we will now look for
ways we can build this into our work in the future. We are grateful
to all of the interviewees for sharing their experiences with
A copy of the full report is available
Notes to editors
The interviews were arranged through direct contact with
services for homeless people. The Commission spoke to people who
were available and willing to talk on the day of the visits, which
took place between July and October 2016.
Due to the small scale nature of the report, individuals and
local authority areas have been anonymised.