It is well known that youth who are homeless experience a high degree of emotional and psychological distress (McCay et al., 2010). Mental health challenges such as depression, anxiety, and self-harm are often linked with difficulties regulating emotion on a day-to-day basis. Taken as a whole, these challenges often interfere with the capacity of street-involved youth to engage in the full spectrum of health and social services intended to support them in exiting the street so they will then be able to engage in independent, healthy adult lives.
There is an overwhelming need for evidence-based interventions to address the mental health challenges faced by youth who are street involved in order to support adaption and reintegration (Altena, Brilleslijper-Kater, & Wolf, 2010; Coren et al., 2013). Furthermore, it has been observed that the current intervention literature overlooks the core mental health problems, such as emotional and psychological distress, experienced by these youth (Chen, Thrane, Whitbeck, & Johnson, 2006; McCay et al., 2010).
One evidence-based approach that offers promise in addressing the dramatic emotional needs of youth who are homeless is dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT). DBT is an evidence-based intervention designed to treat a range of serious mental health challenges, including mood and anxiety disorders, self-harm behaviour, and suicidality (Linehan, 2000; McMain, Korman, & Dimeff, 2001; Miller, Rathus, DuBose, Dexter-Mazza, & Goldklang, 2007a). DBT was originally developed for the treatment of borderline personality disorder, a serious mental disorder characterized by the inability to manage emotions effectively (Linehan, 1993). More recently, DBT has been adapted for a wide
range of mental health challenges, and has proved to be effective across a range of adult and adolescent populations. While literature evaluating the effectiveness of DBT for youth who are homeless is limited, the treatment has demonstrated the capacity to decrease self-harm and suicidality, and to improve mental health indicators such as depression and anxiety (Bohus et al., 2004), all of which include problems with regulating emotion. These findings suggest that DBT may be effective in meeting the needs of street-involved youth.