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Lancet. 2000 Mar 11;355(9207):882-6.

Community study of people who live in squalor.

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Section of Old Age Psychiatry, Institute of Psychiatry, King's College, London, UK.



The reasons why people live in squalor have been the subject of much debate but little systematic research other than reports of case series from secondary health-care services. We did a study in the community using standardised instruments to investigate the relation between squalor and mental and physical disorders.


We did a cross-sectional study of the clients of a local-authority special cleaning service. Levels of domestic squalor and self neglect were measured with the living conditions rating scale, and diagnoses of mental disorder were made by use of WHO's schedules for clinical assessment in neuropsychiatry (SCAN).


91 individuals were eligible for inclusion; 81 from 76 households consented and were interviewed (a response rate of 89%). 41 (51%) were younger than 65 years of age. 57 individuals (70%) were diagnosed as having a mental disorder at interview, as defined by the SCAN, and 21 participants (26%) had a physical health problem which contributed significantly to the unclean state of their living environment. Those with a contributory physical disorder had a lower severity of domestic squalor. People older than 65 years were less likely to have a mental disorder than those younger than 65 years, but a contributory physical disorder was not associated with the presence of active mental disorder. Only 30 (53%) of the 57 individuals with active mental disorder had had any contact with mental-health services in the previous year.


People who live in squalor and who receive special cleaning services have high rates of mental disorder, and squalor affects younger as well as older people. Living in squalid conditions in the group was generally associated with a mental or physical disorder, and there were possible deficits in the health care received. The extent to which these disorders might respond to more assertive treatment from health services requires further study, but questions are raised about the adequacy of their current health care.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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