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Report: 80 Percent of Homeless Suffer from a Mental Disorder, Some Have Contagious Diseases

Report: 80 Percent of Homeless Suffer from a Mental Disorder, Some Have Contagious Diseases

Posted April. 17, 2005 23:36,   


It turns out that five to eight out of 10 homeless are suffering from clinical depression or paranoia, and six out of 10 are alcoholics.

Some of them have contagious diseases such as AIDS, syphilis or tuberculosis, which call for immediate measures.

The Health Conditions of the Homeless-

The Seoul Municipal Office and Provincial Mental Health Center conducted its first investigation (March 16~24) on health conditions of some 852 homeless who live around Seoul Station and Yongdeungpo Station. District Offices of Seoul, the Korea Research Institute on Drinking Culture, the Korean National Tuberculosis Association and Korea Hansen Damien Rehabilitation and Welfare Association have joined in the project as well.

Some 536 agreed to receive an examination, and it was revealed that 440 or 82 percent of them need close medical attention and treatment for depression. More than 70 percent of them showed symptoms of mental diseases.

In addition, 334 or 62 percent of them were alcoholics. More depressingly, 113 homeless drink alcohol almost everyday, and 90 percent of them have mental problems along with alcoholism.

Considering the examination excluded some 30 homeless who were either drunk or hostile at that time, the actual number of mental patients should be even larger, experts said.

The examination for infectious diseases revealed the following cases: one AIDS case, one Hansen disease case, 12 syphilis cases, 16 hepatitis cases, and 32 tuberculosis cases among 342 who accepted the medical check-up.

Experts said, “AIDS and syphilis are infected through physical or sexual contact, but tuberculosis can be transmitted by aerial infection. We need to take measures to prevent further infection.”

Difficulties and Countermeasures-

Seoul City officials and social welfare groups say, “Even when we identify patients, we cannot force them to receive treatment as it involves human rights issues. We have no other choice but to leave them as they are.”

Lee Myung-su, the director of the Seoul Provincial Mental Health Center, said, “As we cannot give compulsory hospitalization and treatment, the central or local governments should urgently prepare medical care programs for them.”

“Authorities concerned are indifferent and the budget is in short. There is little we can do for those mental patients,” said Lee Ju-won, executive director of “Helping Hands,” a social welfare organization for the homeless. “The government and civic groups should build a medical care system for the homeless who currently have no access to such services,” he added.

The Seoul City office is planning to transform existing facilities for the homeless into a professional treatment center, so that they can provide medical care as well as other services.

Jin-Han Lee Kang-Myoung Chang likeday@donga.com tesomiom@donga.com