Gender Differences in Mental Disorders, Substance Use, and Service Use among Indigenous Canadians Experiencing Homelessness and Mental Illness

Peer reviewed: 
Yes, item is peer reviewed.
Scholarly level: 
Graduate student (Masters)
Final version published as: 

Bingham, Brittany & Moniruzzaman, Akm & Patterson, Michelle & Distasio, Jino & jitter, & O'Neil, John & Somers, Julian. (2019). Indigenous and non-Indigenous people experiencing homelessness and mental illness in two Canadian cities: A retrospective analysis and implications for culturally informed action. BMJ Open. 9. DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2018-024748.

Date created: 
Mental health
Substance use
Service use
Gender differences


Indigenous people are over represented among homeless populations worldwide and the prevalence of Indigenous homelessness appears to be increasing in Canadian cities. Violence against Indigenous women in Canada has been widely publicized but has not informed the planning of housing interventions. Despite historical policies leading to disenfranchisement of Indigenous rights in gender-specific ways, little is known about contemporary differences in need between homeless Indigenous men and women. This study investigated mental health, substance use and service use among Indigenous people who met criteria for homelessness and mental illness, and hypothesized that, compared to men, women would have significantly higher rates of trauma, suicidality, substance dependence, and experiences of violence.


This study was conducted using baseline (pre-randomization) data from a multi-site trial. Inclusion in the current analyses was restricted to participants who self-reported Indigenous ethnicity, and combined eligible participants from Vancouver, BC and Winnipeg, MB. Logistic regression analyses were used to model the independent associations between gender and outcome variables.


In multivariable regression models among Indigenous participants (n = 439), female gender was predictive of meeting criteria for PTSD, multiple mental disorders, current high suicidality and current substance dependence. Female gender was also significantly associated with reported physical (AOR: 1.52, 95% CI = 1.10–2.23) and sexual (AOR: 6.31, 95% CI = 2.78–14.31) violence.


Our analyses of Indigenous men and women who are homeless illustrate the distinct legacy of colonization on the experiences of Indigenous women. Our findings are consistent with the widely documented violence against Indigenous women in Canada. Housing policies and services are urgently needed that take Indigenous historical contexts, trauma and gender into account.

Document type: 
Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC)