“If somebody could just understand what I am going through, it would make all the difference”: Conceptualizations of trauma in homeless populations experiencing severe mental illness

Andrew Gilmoor*, Smriti Vallath, Barbara Regeer, Joske Bunders

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Exposure to violence, vulnerability due to lack of shelter, alienation due to stigma, the experiences of severe mental illness (SMI) and subsequent institutionalization, make homeless persons with SMI uniquely susceptible to trauma exposure and subsequent mental health consequences. This study aims to contribute to the development of culturally sensitive interventions for identifying and treating trauma in a population of homeless persons with SMI in Tamil Nadu, India by understanding the manifestations of trauma and its associated consequences in this population. Free-listing exercises followed by in-depth interviews were conducted with a convenience sample of 26 user-survivors who have experienced homelessness or were at risk of homelessness, and suffered from SMI. Topics explored included events considered to be traumatic, pathways to trauma, associated emotional, physical and social complaints, and coping strategies. Results indicate discrepancies in classification of traumatic events between user-survivors and the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Traumatic experiences, particularly relating to social relationships and poverty, mentioned by user-survivors did not match traditional conceptualizations of trauma. Positive coping strategies for trauma included being mentally strong, knowledge and awareness, whereas the main negative coping strategy is avoidance. User-survivors attributed their experiences of homelessness and SMI to past traumas. Differing views of trauma between user-survivors and mental health professionals can lead to misdiagnosis and under-recognition of trauma in this population of homeless persons with SMI.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)455-467
Number of pages13
JournalTranscultural Psychiatry
Volume57
Issue number3
Early online date8 Mar 2020
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2020

Keywords

  • homelessness
  • India
  • severe mental illness
  • Tamil Nadu
  • trauma

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