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Letter: Homelessness in Utah — the plight of mental illness

Oct 19, 2023

Utah has the highest rate of mental illness in the United States. 1 in 3 people who are homeless are living with a serious mental illness, with an even higher percentage among those who are chronically homeless as well as homeless women. There are many more homeless people living with untreated severe psychiatric illnesses than there are receiving care in hospitals or long-term care facilities. As the rates of mental illness in Utah’s homeless population continue to rise, we need drastic intervention to address and remediate this issue.

Working toward solutions that address critical mental health factors that contribute to homelessness in Utah is vital to implementing solutions to alleviate it. The more severe the mental disorder is for a person, the more likely one is to face structural barriers to mental health care. Some patients suffering from severe chronic mental disorders require long-term or possibly even lifelong care that our country is not equipped to provide. This means that correctional facilities are forced to provide mental health treatment to those serving minor infractions because there simply is no other way these people will receive help. Once released, they are returned to the street with no long-lasting support to achieve stability. Thus, perpetuating a cycle of criminal activity and homelessness because the true issue is not being addressed, which is the mental illness and the lack of support our homeless population have to treat it.

If we aim to alleviate the unmet mental health needs in America, we need to first address the accessibility of care to people struggling with mental illness – specifically the homeless living in our state. For every mental health provider within our country, there are an estimated 350 individuals who need their services. Political action is needed to incorporate the proper infrastructure changes necessary to support the mental health field to ensure more workers and facilities are available to treat mental illness. In turn, this will provide solutions to not only homelessness in Utah but also the mental health crisis as a whole.

Jeanine Sparkman

Ogden

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