Back to All

Study by PFP explores relationship between PTSD and depressive symptoms

A recent study by Places for People’s Research and Evaluation team explored the relationship between post-traumatic stress symptoms and depressive symptoms among individuals served through a SAMHSA-funded program to provide mental health, substance use, and housing support services to persons experiencing chronic homelessness.

The article, “The relationship between PTSD factors and depression in a chronically homeless sample,” was published online in The Journal of Social Distress and Homelessness in late September. Authors include Nathaniel Dell, AM, MSW, LCSW, Gary Morse, PhD, and Pallavi Nishith, PhD, of Places for People, and Jin Huang, PhD, of Saint Louis University’s School of Social Work.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) has been found to occur alongside other serious mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression; however, the relationship between PTSD symptoms and depressive symptoms has not been widely investigated among persons with serious mental illness who experience homelessness, which may itself be traumatizing as well as a pathway to other trauma exposure. Approximately seven in 10 individuals served through the grant project had experienced either a probable episode of major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

The model of PTSD found in Dell’s study was similar to other models found in past research, with PTSD being comprised of four different symptom clusters: re-experiencing thoughts and memories about the trauma, avoidance of thoughts, feelings, or reminders about the trauma, arousal symptoms such as being very alert or easily startled, and dysphoric mood, such as feeling a lack of positive emotion, irritability, guilt, and blame. The dysphoric symptoms were found to relate the most strongly to depressive symptoms overall, which may suggest that while PTSD and depression are distinct diagnoses, they share several common characteristics.

“These findings have implications not only for how we assess and intervene with persons served through our current SAMHSA-funded homeless services project, but for all who we serve with a history of homelessness,” Dell said. “The need to promote the experience of safety and to address symptoms of trauma is substantial.”

The need to promote the experience of safety and to address symptoms of trauma is substantial.PFP Research and Evaluation Program Director Nathaniel Dell, AM, MSW, LCSW


Understanding the relationship of PTSD to depressive symptoms might contribute to more effective treatments for people who experience depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms following exposure to trauma.

Places for People provides a trauma-informed environment, and currently offers several evidence-based and evidence-informed practices to individuals who have experienced trauma, including Seeking Safety [for co-occurring trauma and substance use], Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, and TREM. Each person served by Places for People has his, her or their own treatment plan that is routinely updated based on progress toward clinical and personal goals.