What’s the first thing you think about when you hear “post-traumatic stress disorder”? If it’s war, that’s understandable, considering an estimated 62% of veterans of the Gulf, Iraq, and Vietnam Wars have experienced PTSD at some point in their lifetimes. However, PTSD impacts a range of people who have experienced a variety of traumatic events, from war to sexual assault to verbal abuse to witnessing a violent or tragic event—especially women.
Women experience PTSD at double the rate of men, with the lifetime prevalence being 5–6% in men and 10–12% in women. Additionally, women live with the effects of the disorder for significantly longer than men: four years, on average, compared to one, which puts women at greater risk for chronic PTSD.
Think you or someone you love may have PTSD? It will help to understand what PTSD is, how it can begin, and why it affects men and women differently.
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that occurs in the aftermath of experiencing or witnessing a frightening event. It’s normal for anyone who goes through something traumatic to feel anxious, scared, or nervous for a time afterward; however, PTSD occurs when these feelings last for months or even years. Some of the most common symptoms include:
- Recurring memories
- Flashbacks, or reliving the event
- Nightmares about the trauma
- Emotional distress, physical reactions, or severe anxiety when reminded of the event
- Trouble sleeping
- Feeling emotionally absent or numb
- Isolation from family and friends
- Changes in behavior, including angry outbursts or aggression
Who does PTSD Affect?
The short answer is anyone who has experienced something traumatic, whether it be firsthand or as a witness. Statistically, however, there are certain events that indicate higher risk of PTSD. It’s estimated that 49% of rape victims, 31.9% of physical assault victims, 23.7% of sexual assault victims, 16.8% of those in a serious accident, 15.4% of those involved in a shooting or stabbing, 14.3% of those who lose a loved one suddenly, 10.4% of parents who have a child with a life-threatening illness, 7.3% of people who witness a killing or serious injury, and 3.8% of those who live through a natural disaster are at risk for developing PTSD.
Considering one in every six women has been a victim in an attempted or completed rape and one in every three women will experience sexual assault, it’s no surprise that women should be the group most affected by PTSD.
The PTSD Experience for Men and Women
While PTSD is undoubtedly terrible for anyone of any age, gender, and orientation to experience, research has shown that the types of trauma most experienced by men differ from those most experienced by women, contributing to the risk of developing PTSD being higher among women.
For example, men are more likely to experience trauma related to:
- Natural disasters
- Disasters caused by humans
Women are more likely to experience traumas that cause PTSD at statistically higher rates, including:
- Sexual abuse
- Sexual assault
- Domestic violence
In short, victims of sexual trauma are more likely to develop PTSD, and women are more likely to be victims of sexual trauma, therefore statistically women experience PTSD at significantly higher numbers than men.
Whatever the cause, if someone you know is experiencing PTSD, or you feel you are experiencing symptoms yourself, contact your doctor or a mental health professional to learn what steps you can take to stay ahead of, or better manage, your symptoms.