Contrary to popular belief, going through trauma is common. In fact, records show that around 60% of men and 50% of women experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. From this large portion of people, there is a small part who will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Like other mental illnesses, PTSD can affect anyone and should not be perceived as a sign of weakness. Statistics show that approximately eight million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year.
What are the Symptoms of PTSD?
The symptoms of PTSD usually occur within a month after a person experienced a traumatic event. However, in some cases, symptoms may not appear until years later.
A person with PTSD will have persistent and recurring memories of the traumatic event, whether they want to think about it or not. These memories can manifest as flashbacks during the day or as nightmares. Seeing, hearing or smelling something that reminds the individual of the traumatic event can also cause emotional distress that may show in physical form such as shaking, headaches, panic attacks or heart palpitations.
An individual with PTSD will most likely avoid anything, anyone and anywhere that reminds them of the traumatic experience. As PTSD worsens, a person may isolate from everyone, even those who have no connection to the traumatic event.
Changes in Thinking and Mood
Whether they are experiencing flashbacks or not, a person with PTSD may feel hopeless, numb, guilty, ashamed or may even be thinking about suicide.
Changes in Behavior
Someone with PTSD may show significant changes in behavior, such as angry outbursts or extremely aggressive behavior when they are usually calm and patient. Other signs of PTSD also include an inability to focus, feelings of danger and difficulty sleeping.
The Gender Difference of PTSD
While PTSD can happen to anyone, statistics show that there is a significant gender difference in the prevalence of PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, around 10% of women have PTSD sometime in their lives compared to 4% of men.
Numerous research studies on post-traumatic disorder have shown that females are twice as likely to experience PTSD than males. Further investigation revealed the following possible causes for the disparity.
Type of Trauma
While the existing evidence shows that the lifetime prevalence of exposure to traumas was much lower among women than men, women are still more vulnerable to experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder. Why? Because women are subjected to specific types of trauma with a much higher overall conditional risk of PTSD.
Men are more likely to encounter traumas such as physical assault, accidents, disaster, combat or to see death and injury. Women, on the other hand, are more prone to experience rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse as a child.
Numbers from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center show that 91% of rape and sexual assault victims are women and 9% are males. Moreover, 20% of women will be raped at some point in their lives compared to 1.4% of men. One study found the effects of sexual assault are so damaging that 94% of women victims experienced PTSD symptoms within the first two weeks following the incident.
Culture and Gender Roles
Apart from trauma type, culture and gender roles are also factors that contribute to the high prevalence of PTSD among women. Studies found that the incidence of PTSD is more evident in communities that stress traditional gender roles (men having more social power than women) because women in this type of culture feel more emotionally vulnerable.
Women’s coping strategy against stress is also suggested as a factor that increases susceptibility to PTSD. It is a known fact that men and women cope with stress differently. A recent study found that instead of the usual “fight or flight” response to stressful or threatening situations, women apparently used the “tend and befriend.”
Tending involves taking care of people around them, while befriending is the process of reaching out to people around them to find relief from distress. Considering women’s reliance on the support of others during problematic times (e.g. traumatic events), they become more vulnerable to experiencing PTSD symptoms if their social network does not give the support they need or if they feel rejected and abandoned.
The truth is: anyone can have PTSD. And fortunately, there are effective treatments for PTSD, such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy or psychodrama therapy. If you notice warning signs or think someone may have PTSD, don’t make assumptions about their gender or background, show your support and encourage them to get help.
Dale is a writer and researcher in the fields of mental health and addiction for Sunshine Behavioral Health. Dale has over four years of writing in his field and discusses these topics in the hopes to reduce the stigmas associated with mental health and addiction.
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