Trauma associated with mental health disorders but not substance abuse in homeless men

Research Activities, August 2010, No. 360

Mental health problems and substance abuse are common among the homeless. A new study finds that homeless men who experienced traumatic, life-threatening events may develop mental health problems, but these harrowing experiences do not necessarily prompt them to abuse alcohol or drugs.

Researchers surveyed homeless men in four North Carolina shelters to determine the role traumatic experiences played in their mental health or substance abuse problems. Of the 239 men surveyed, 68.2 percent had suffered physical abuse as children and 71.1 percent experienced physical abuse as adults. Nearly 56 percent of the men reported they were victims of childhood sexual abuse, and 53 percent reported being victims of adult sexual abuse. Childhood sexual and physical abuse were not as strongly associated with mental health problems as adult sexual and physical trauma, suggesting that abuse suffered as an adult poses a stronger risk for mental health problems than abuse in childhood. No demographic or trauma variables were associated with the men's substance abuse problems. This lack of a relationship between mental health problems and substance abuse indicates that trauma plays an important role in homeless men's mental health problems but not their substance abuse.

The authors suggest that the survey tools used in this study could be useful for screening boys and men for abuse and mental health problems to prevent them from joining the ranks of the homeless. Additionally, interventions to assist homeless men should combine safe housing with social services and therapy that address traumatic events as a means for thwarting chronic homelessness. This study was funded in part by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (HS13353).

See "Assessing trauma, substance abuse, and mental health in a sample of homeless men, by Mimi M. Kim, Ph.D., Julian D. Ford, Ph.D., Daniel L. Howard, Ph.D., and Daniel W. Bradford, M.D., M.P.H.," in the February 2010 Health & Social Work 35(1), pp. 39-48.

Current as of August 2010
Internet Citation: Trauma associated with mental health disorders but not substance abuse in homeless men: Research Activities, August 2010, No. 360. August 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/research-activities/aug10/0810RA23.html