Evaluating risk factors and possible mediation effects in posttraumatic depression and posttraumatic stress disorder comorbidity

Public Health Rep. Mar-Apr 2011;126(2):201-9. doi: 10.1177/003335491112600211.


Objectives: On September 11, 2001 (9/11), attacks on the World Trade Center (WTC) killed 341 Fire Department of the City of New York (FDNY) firefighters and injured hundreds more. Previous WTC-related studies reported high rates of comorbid depression and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), identifying disability retirement, alcohol use, and early arrival at the WTC site as correlates. However, those studies did not evaluate risk factors that could have mediated the observed comorbidity. We identified unique risk factors for each condition in an effort to better understand comorbidity.

Methods: We screened retired WTC-exposed firefighters using self-administered questionnaires including the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale, the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist, and the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test. We performed regression analyses to compare independent predictors of elevated depression and PTSD risk, and also tested a mediation hypothesis.

Results: From December 2005 to July 2007, 23% and 22% of 1,915 retirees screened positive for elevated depression and PTSD risk, respectively, with comorbidity > 70%. Controlling for comorbidity, we identified unique risk factors for (1) depression: problem alcohol use and (2) PTSD: early arrival at the WTC site.

Conclusions: Our data support the premise that PTSD and depression are different responses to trauma with unique risk factors. The data also suggest a hypothesis that PTSD mediates the relationship between early WTC arrival and depression, while depression mediates the relationship between alcohol use and PTSD, a more complex relationship than shown in previous studies. Clinicians should consider these factors when evaluating patients for depression and PTSD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Alcoholism / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / complications
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New York City / epidemiology
  • Rescue Work*
  • Risk Factors
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / complications
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology*