Why women are at greater risk for PTSD than men: a comparative study

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating and persistent mental disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a life-altering or life-threatening traumatic life event. The traumatic event may include a near death experience, accident, death of loved ones, natural disaster, war, abuse, or sexual assault.

The common symptoms of PTSD include:

  1. Negative thoughts and recurring thoughts from the traumatic incident.

  2. Experiencing anxiety, fear, loneliness, sadness, isolation and guilt.

  3. Self-harming reactions that take shape such as suicidal thoughts, anger, irritability, self-destructive behavior, and lack of focus.

  4. Trouble sleeping.

Prevalence of PTSD in men and women?

Many studies have been conducted on the symptoms and incidence of PTSD in men and women, with very different results. It was clear that 10% of women developed PTSD after the traumatic event, while only 4% of men reported PTSD after the traumatic incident. These statistics may be due to our social acceptance or tolerance towards women in expressing their emotions. It is not socially acceptable for men to express their emotions.

However, many other studies have been done to establish this fact, of which a study conducted by American Veterans Studies remains prominent. It showed results that supported the data that every 5 in 10 women suffer from PTSD and only 2 in 10 men suffer from PTSD after a traumatic incident. While some of the symptoms of PTSD, such as reliving, numbness, avoidance, and hyperarousal, are the same for both men and women, many other symptoms have been observed in women that were significantly different from men.

How does the risk of trauma differ in men and women?

A large mental health study found that both men and women experience broadly different types of trauma. Men predominantly experience physical trauma such as war or an accident. On the other hand, women are more likely to experience both emotional and physical trauma, such as sexual assault or child abuse. Incidents of sexual violence are significantly higher for women than for men.

How are the symptoms different in women than in men?

Studies have shown that women are at greater risk of being sexually assaulted than men. Evidence has shown that women sustain injuries during the incident, leading to additional consequences of emotional turmoil. Women suffering from PTSD show signs of depression, anxiety, become emotionally numb, and avoid situations, objects, or persons that remind them of the trauma. On the other hand, men are more likely to express their PTSD through uncontrolled anger, irritability, and developing sensitivity to drugs, alcoholism, or other substance abuse.

However, women do not receive enough social support after the trauma and experience strong emotional reactions during the time of the incident. It results in long-lasting PTSD symptoms. These women then become addicted to drugs or alcohol to numb their emotions. A large number of studies have shown that women experience symptoms of PTSD longer than men. Women can experience persistent PTSD for up to four years, while men are likely to suffer from PTSD for only one year.

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However, both men and women can develop physical health problems as a result of PTSD.

Research on the LGBTQ community also shows that they experience PTSD as a result of a gender identity crisis, social isolation and discrimination. Various incidents of crime, violence, and abuse reported for the LGBTQ community often put them at greater risk for PTSD.

Women in the military are at greater risk of emotional harm, especially during times of war. While men are more often involved in hostilities, the number of women becoming victims of hostilities is also increasing. Women in the military are also more likely to be sexually harassed or assaulted than men. More research is needed to better understand the impact of hostility and sexual violence on women relative to persistent PTSD symptoms.

What are the challenges during PTSD treatment?

There are many good treatment options available for PTSD, including medication and psychotherapy. However, not all people with PTSD seek treatment. Studies show that women are more likely than men to seek help after traumatic events. At least one study has shown that women respond to PTSD treatments in the same way or even better than men. This may be because women are more comfortable sharing their emotional trauma or personal experience than men.

How we can help?

Mental illness or trauma is not gender specific and can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or class. It is important to recognize the symptoms and seek treatment for PTSD at the earliest.