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A cross-sectional examination of the mental health of homeless mothers: does the relationship between mothering and mental health vary by duration of homelessness?
  1. Denise M Zabkiewicz1,
  2. Michelle Patterson1,
  3. Alexandra Wright2
  1. 1Faculty of Health Sciences, Centre for Applied Research in Mental Health & Addiction, Simon Fraser University, Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada
  2. 2Centre for International Mental Health, Melbourne School of Population and Global Health, University of Melbourne, Carlton, Victoria, Australia
  1. Correspondence to Dr Denise M Zabkiewicz; denise_zabkiewicz{at}


Objectives This study draws on baseline data from the At Home/Chez Soi demonstration project to examine the association between parenting status and mental health among homeless women and whether the association varies by duration of homelessness.

Setting Structured interviews were conducted with participants in five cities across Canada including Moncton, Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Winnipeg.

Participants Eligibility criteria included those with legal adult status, with a mental illness, and who lacked a regular, fixed shelter. All 713 women who participated in the larger project were selected for inclusion in this analysis.

Measures The mental health conditions of interest include depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), alcohol dependence and substance dependence.

Results The relationship between parenting status and depression, as well as PTSD, varied by duration of homelessness. Among women who had been homeless for less than 2 years, no relationship was found between parenting status and depression, or PTSD. However, among women who had been homeless for 2 or more years, the odds of depression was twice as high among parenting women compared with others (aOR=2.05, p≤0.05). A similar relationship was found between parenting status and PTSD (aOR=2.03, p≤0.05). The odds of substance dependence was found to be 2.62 times greater among parenting women compared with others and this relationship did not vary by duration of homelessness (aOR=2.62; 95% CI 1.86 to 3.69). No relationship was found between parenting and alcohol dependence.

Conclusions Overall, the findings from this study suggest that there is a relationship between long-term homelessness and mothers’ risk of poor mental health. Given the multiple demands mothers face, a failure to recognise their unique needs is likely to contribute to intergenerational legacies of homelessness and mental health problems.

Trial registration number World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (ISRCTN66721740 and ISRCTN57595077).


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