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(Publication) Nursing faculty study factors affecting mental health in adults experiencing homelessness

(Publication) Nursing faculty study factors affecting mental health in adults experiencing homelessness

Social support can help adults experiencing homelessness ward off negative emotions, Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth researchers found in an analysis of data gathered from Oklahoma City shelters. 

Daphne Hernandez, PhD, MSEd, FAAHB, and Diane Santa Maria, DrPH, RN, FAAN, both associate professors in the Department of Research at Cizik School of Nursing, studied data gathered through surveys conducted by researchers from the University of Houston and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Hernandez is a Lee and Joseph Jamail Distinguished Professor, and Santa Maria, the Cizik School of Nursing’s interim dean, holds the John P. McGovern and Dorothy T. Nicholson distinguished professorships. 

Hernandez and Santa Maria analyzed response data the team collected from more than 500 adults served by six homeless shelters. 

“We were really interested in studying distress tolerance and social support, two characteristics that had not previously been studied simultaneously among individuals experiencing homelessness,” Hernandez said. 

Anyone who lives in a city faces “urban stress” – pollution, the sound of sirens, the fear of violence, and a host of other factors. These stressors can be amplified for people experiencing homelessness, and the study examined several interrelated factors that can exacerbate or mitigate the mental health effects in this vulnerable population. 

“We looked at the association between urban stress and mental health, especially depression and post-traumatic stress disorder,” Hernandez said. “We found that if you increase social support, you have a chance of also increasing distress tolerance. If people experiencing homelessness feel supported, they have a greater chance of withstanding negative emotions.” 

Since those surveyed were being served by homeless shelters, they generally had access to counseling, meals or food preparation facilities, and other types of social support, Hernandez noted. Given these characteristics and the study’s limitations in terms of geography and sample size, more research is needed. However, the analysis by Cizik School of Nursing faculty suggests that by finding more ways to provide social services, homeless shelters may help improve mental health among those they serve. 


Citation: Daphne C. Hernandez, Sajeevika S. Daundasekara, Michael J. Zvolensky, Lorraine R. Reitzel, Diane Santa Maria, Adam C. Alexander, Darla E. Kendzor, and Michael S. Businelle. Urban Stress Indirectly Influences Psychological Symptoms through Its Association with Distress Tolerance and Perceived Social Support among Adults Experiencing Homelessness. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 2020, 17, 5301; doi:10.3390/ijerph17155301 (published online in advance of print)

In this story

Daphne C Hernandez, PhD, MSEd, FAAHB

Diane M Santa Maria, DrPH, MSN, RN, PHNA-BC, FSAHM, FAAN

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