Paranoia and maladaptive behaviours in homelessness: The mediating role of emotion regulation

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Abstract

Objectives

Current research has implicated a role for cognitive and emotional processes in the pathways to becoming homeless. Evidence implicates three risk factors, which are often associated with an increased incidence of homelessness: paranoid thinking, emotion regulation, and engaging in maladaptive behaviours. Maladaptive behaviours include deliberate self-harm, substance misuse, and high-risk sexual practices. Currently, no studies have investigated the specific psychological mechanisms, such as difficulty regulating emotions, which underpin the association between paranoia and maladaptive behaviours.

Design

A mediational design was employed in a group of homeless individuals. Method: Participants (N = 40), who were homeless at the time of the study, completed a single-session assessment of paranoia, emotion regulation, and maladaptive behaviours.

Results

Mediation analyses indicated that individuals scoring high on paranoia were more likely to engage in maladaptive behaviours, particularly substance misuse and aggression, when they had difficulty regulating their emotions. These results demonstrate a novel finding relating to the effect of emotion regulation in maintaining psychopathology and behaviours in vulnerable individuals, which may in turn sustain periods of homelessness.

Conclusions

Emotion regulation may therefore be one particular psychological mechanism through which severe mental illness affects engagement in self-destructive behaviours in homelessness. These findings have valuable clinical implications for targeted therapeutic interventions, in this often difficult to treat homeless population.

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