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HandWiki. Serious Mental Illness. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 20 May 2024).
HandWiki. Serious Mental Illness. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed May 20, 2024.
HandWiki. "Serious Mental Illness" Encyclopedia, (accessed May 20, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, November 30). Serious Mental Illness. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Serious Mental Illness." Encyclopedia. Web. 30 November, 2022.
Serious Mental Illness

Serious Mental Illness (SMI) is characterized as any mental health condition that seriously impairs anywhere from one to several significant life activities. Common diagnoses associated with SMI include bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders (i.e. schizophrenia), post-traumatic stress disorder, and major depressive disorder. In 2017, there was a 4.5% prevalence rate of U.S. adults diagnosed with SMI, the highest percentage being the young adult population. In 2017, 66.7% of the 4.5% diagnosed adults sought out mental health care services.

mental health care mental health condition young adult

1. Hospitalizations

Many people living with SMI experience institutional recidivism, which is the process of being admitted and readmitted into the hospital.[1] This cycle is due in part to a lack of support being available for people living with SMI after being released from the hospital, frequent encounters between them and the police, as well as miscommunication between clinicians and police officers.[1] Highly symptomatic patients are more likely to seek emergency room services.[2] Interestingly, patients with schizophrenia have the lowest risk of being hospitalized, likely due to frequent encounters with case managers to manage the chronic and persistent symptoms of schizophrenia.[2]

To reduce the occurrence of institutional recidivism, the Georgia chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) created the Opening Doors to Recovery (ODR) program.[1] ODR established a treatment team of licensed mental health professionals, peer specialists, and family peer specialists (a family member of someone who has SMI) to reduce institutional recidivism by providing treatment, ensuring safe housing, and supporting their recovery[1] SMI patients who were enrolled in ODR had less hospitalizations and fewer days in the hospital compared to their hospitalizations prior to enrollment.[1]

Older adults with SMI are more likely to seek medical services and have longer hospital stays than patient who see regularly see a doctor.[3] People with SMI seek medical services for a variety of non-mental health conditions, including diabetes, coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, urinary conditions, pneumonia, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, thyroid disease, digestive conditions and cancer.[3][4][5] This may be due to poor lifestyle habits, associated with reduced mental health, such as smoking, poor diet, and lack of exercise.[6] People with SMI typically take antipsychotic medications to manage their condition, however, second-generation antipsychotics can cause poor glycemic control for patients with diabetes, furthering complications in this population.[7] Second-generation antipsychotics, also known as atypical antipsychotics are medications used to effectively treat the positive (e.g. hallucinations and delusions) and negative (e.g. flat affect and lack of motivation) symptoms of schizophrenia.[8] This means that people with both SMI and diabetes are more frequently readmitted to hospitals one month after their initial hospitalization.[9] Notably, patients with SMI have increasing reports of falls and substance abuse, including alcoholism.[3]

2. Homelessness

Adults with SMI are 25 to 50 percent more likely to experience homelessness compared to the general population[10] One predictor of homelessness is poor therapeutic alliance with case managers.[2] In 2019, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development reported that there are 52,243 people living with SMI who were living on the street.[11] During that time, 15,153 people with SMI were in transitional housing, which is temporary housing when people are transitioning from emergency shelters to permanent housing.[11][12] 48,783 people with SMI were living in emergency shelters.[11] People with SMI who experience homelessness have even greater difficulty accessing mental health and primary care services due to cost, lack of transportation, and lack of consistent access to a charged cell phone.[13] These difficulties can add additional stress, which may be why people with SMI experience a high rate of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. When surveyed, 8% of people with SMI who were homeless reported that they had made a suicide attempt in the past 30 days.[13]

2.1. Ending Homelessness

There are several programs that are designed to help end homelessness. One program called the Pathways Housing First (PHF) program was created in 1992 to help end homelessness among those who struggle with mental illness and substance use.[14] PHF rents cost-efficient apartments from property owners or housing agencies on behalf of the individual trying to escape homelessness.[14] PHF limits the number of clients who are housed in the same building to no more than 20% to help clients feel that they are fully integrated into a community.[14] PHF offers clients Assertive Community Treatment or Intensive Case Management to help address client's physical and mental health, employment needs, recovery goals, and/or addiction problems.[14] PHF separates client's housing and clinical needs into two domains, so client's who relapse or are in a crisis do not lose their housing.[14] In traditional supportive housing, clients may lose housing if they need to be hospitalized for psychiatric services or relapse.[14] In PHF, clients never lose housing due to a relapse or hospitalization.[14] Clients are only evicted if they violate their lease agreement (e.g. not paying rent, illegal activity, etc.).[14] In order to stay in the program, clients are mandated to meet with program staff at least once a week.[14] Once they graduate from the program, clients can continue living in their housing site.[14] Due to this structure, PHF has had an 85% success rate for keeping clients housed.[14] Researchers found that this program improved quality of life and psychosocial functioning faster than treatment as usual, also known as standard treatment.[15] In addition, researchers found that SMI patients remained homeless for longer and had fewer housing stability when receiving mental health services in the absence of receiving housing.[15] Combining PHF with Assertive Community Treatment leads to improved quality of life one year after initially starting PHF compared to just receiving outpatient mental health services.[15] Additionally, PHF reduced number of days hospitalized and number of emergency room visits for people with SMI.[15]

3. Stigma

People with SMI often experience stigma due to frequently stigmatizing representations of people with SMI in the media that portrays them as violent, criminals, and accountable for their condition because of weak character.[16] People with SMI experience two kinds of stigma; public stigma and self-stigma. Public stigma refers to negative beliefs/perceptions that the public has about SMI; such as people with SMI should be feared, are irresponsible, that they should be responsible for their life decisions, and that they are childlike, needing constant care.[16] Self-stigma refers to prejudice that an individual with SMI may feel about themselves, such as "I am dangerous. I am afraid of myself."[16][17] In a study conducted on patients who were involuntarily hospitalized, researchers found that poor quality of life and low self-esteem could be predicted by high levels of self-stigma and fewer experiences of empowerment.[18] Self-stigma can be reduced by increasing empowerment in individuals with SMI through counseling and/or peer support and other self-disclosing of their own struggles with mental illness.[17] Consumer services, such as drop-in centers, peer support, mentoring services, and educational programs can increase empowerment in individuals with SMI.[19]


  1. Compton, Michael; Kelley, Mary; Pope, Alicia; Smith, Kelly; Broussard, Beth; Reed, Thomas; DiPolito, June; Druss, Benjamin et al. (2016). "Opening doors to recovery: Recidivism and recovery among persons with serious mental illnesses". Psychiatric Services 67 (2): 169–175. doi:10.1176/ PMID 26467907.
  2. Clarke, Gregory N.; Herinckx, Heidi A.; Kinney, Ronald F.; Paulson, Robert I.; Cutler, David L.; Lewis, Karen; Oxman, Evie (2000-09-01). "Psychiatric Hospitalizations, Arrests, Emergency Room Visits, and Homelessness of Clients with Serious and Persistent Mental Illness: Findings from a Randomized Trial of Two ACT Programs vs. Usual Care" (in en). Mental Health Services Research 2 (3): 155–164. doi:10.1023/A:1010141826867. ISSN 1573-6636. PMID 11256724. 
  3. Hendrie, Hugh C.; Lindgren, Donald; Hay, Donald P.; Lane, Kathleen A.; Gao, Sujuan; Purnell, Christianna; Munger, Stephanie; Smith, Faye et al. (2013-12-01). "Comorbidity Profile and Healthcare Utilization in Elderly Patients with Serious Mental Illnesses" (in en). The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 21 (12): 1267–1276. doi:10.1016/j.jagp.2013.01.056. ISSN 1064-7481. PMID 24206938.
  4. Jayatilleke, Nishamali; Hayes, Richard D.; Chang, Chin-Kuo; Stewart, Robert (December 2018). "Acute general hospital admissions in people with serious mental illness". Psychological Medicine 48 (16): 2676–2683. doi:10.1017/S0033291718000284. ISSN 0033-2917. PMID 29486806.
  5. Davydow, Dimitry S.; Ribe, Anette R.; Pedersen, Henrik S.; Fenger-Grøn, Morten; Cerimele, Joseph M.; Vedsted, Peter; Vestergaard, Mogens (2016-01-01). "Serious Mental Illness and Risk for Hospitalizations and Rehospitalizations for Ambulatory Care-sensitive Conditions in Denmark". Medical Care 54 (1): 90–97. doi:10.1097/MLR.0000000000000448. PMID 26492210. 
  6. Newcomer, John W. (2005-12-01). "Second-Generation (Atypical) Antipsychotics and Metabolic Effects" (in en). CNS Drugs 19 (1): 1–93. doi:10.2165/00023210-200519001-00001. ISSN 1179-1934. PMID 15998156. 
  7. Lipscombe, Lorraine L.; Lévesque, Linda; Gruneir, Andrea; Fischer, Hadas D.; Juurlink, David N.; Gill, Sudeep S.; Herrmann, Nathan; Hux, Janet E. et al. (2009-07-27). "Antipsychotic drugs and hyperglycemia in older patients with diabetes". Archives of Internal Medicine 169 (14): 1282–1289. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2009.207. ISSN 1538-3679. PMID 19636029. 
  8. Sandy (2014-08-27). "First versus second generation". 
  9. Chwastiak, Lydia A.; Davydow, Dimitry S.; McKibbin, Christine L.; Schur, Ellen; Burley, Mason; McDonell, Michael G.; Roll, John; Daratha, Kenn B. (2014). "The effect of serious mental illness on the risk of rehospitalization among patients with diabetes". Psychosomatics 55 (2): 134–143. doi:10.1016/j.psym.2013.08.012. ISSN 1545-7206. PMID 24367898. PMC 3997382. 
  10. Susser, E; Valencia, E; Conover, S; Felix, A; Tsai, W Y; Wyatt, R J (1997). "Preventing recurrent homelessness among mentally ill men: a "critical time" intervention after discharge from a shelter.". American Journal of Public Health 87 (2): 256–262. doi:10.2105/ajph.87.2.256. ISSN 0090-0036. PMID 9103106.
  11. "CoC Homeless Populations and Subpopulations Reports - HUD Exchange". 
  12. "Housing and Shelter" (in en). 
  13. "The Never-Ending Loop: Homelessness, Psychiatric Disorder, and Mortality". 
  14. Tsemberis, Sam (2010). Housing First: The Pathways Model to End Homelessness for People with Mental Illness and Addiction. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden. pp. 1–31. ISBN 978-1-59285-998-6. 
  15. Aubry, Tim; Goering, Paula; Veldhuizen, Scott; Adair, Carol E.; Bourque, Jimmy; Distasio, Jino; Latimer, Eric; Stergiopoulos, Vicky et al. (2015-12-01). "A Multiple-City RCT of Housing First With Assertive Community Treatment for Homeless Canadians With Serious Mental Illness". Psychiatric Services 67 (3): 275–281. doi:10.1176/ ISSN 1075-2730. PMID 26620289. 
  16. CORRIGAN, PATRICK W; WATSON, AMY C (2002). "Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness". World Psychiatry 1 (1): 16–20. ISSN 1723-8617. PMID 16946807.
  17. Corrigan, Patrick W.; Rao, Deepa (2012). "On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change". Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 57 (8): 464–469. doi:10.1177/070674371205700804. ISSN 0706-7437. PMID 22854028.
  18. Rüsch, Nicolas; Müller, Mario; Lay, Barbara; Corrigan, Patrick W.; Zahn, Roland; Schönenberger, Thekla; Bleiker, Marco; Lengler, Silke et al. (2014-02-01). "Emotional reactions to involuntary psychiatric hospitalization and stigma-related stress among people with mental illness" (in en). European Archives of Psychiatry and Clinical Neuroscience 264 (1): 35–43. doi:10.1007/s00406-013-0412-5. ISSN 1433-8491. PMID 23689838. 
  19. CORRIGAN, PATRICK W.; LARSON, JONATHON E.; RÜSCH, NICOLAS (2009). "Self-stigma and the "why try" effect: impact on life goals and evidence-based practices". World Psychiatry 8 (2): 75–81. doi:10.1002/j.2051-5545.2009.tb00218.x. ISSN 1723-8617. PMID 19516923.
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