In pop culture, Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is often associated with males, or with jobs that involve direct combat. However, research from the American Psychological Association1 (APA) shows that women are more likely to meet the criteria for PTSD even though males usually experience more traumatic events on average. In fact, the female gender is considered one of the many risk factors in the development of PTSD following a traumatic event.
PTSD manifests itself differently among men and women. In the research posted by the APA, women were more likely to have depression and anxiety, to feel jumpy, to avoid the things that remind them of the traumatic event, and to have difficulty feeling emotions. Males were less likely to report anxiety and depression, but were more likely to display irritability, anger and violence. However, both men and women can have physical health problems. Though the reasons for the differences between men and women in PTSD are not yet clear, one of the theories was that the criteria for diagnosing PTSD are skewed to represent the symptoms women experience more than the ones men experience.
Another theory researchers have is that the type of trauma and the frequency of trauma, both of which differ drastically between males and females, are significant factors in the development of PTSD. Women were more likely to experience sexual assault or child abuse as compared to nonsexual assault, accidents and disasters. This prompted researchers to wonder if the emotional suffering resulting from this type of trauma was more likely to cause long-term post-traumatic symptoms.
However, they also found that women were more likely to have PTSD following the same type of traumatic event as men. For example, the incidence of PTSD following a motor vehicle accident was higher for women than for men. The authors of the research paper argue that women may experience these non-sexual assault traumatic events in the landscape of prior events that predispose them to having a worse outcome and developing PTSD. For example, for a man and a woman who both experience the same car crash, the woman may develop PTSD because she was sexually abused earlier in life and therefore she responded more strongly on an emotional and physical level to the current traumatic car crash2.
In the United States, half of all women will experience a traumatic event that could predispose them to PTSD and 1 in 5 women have been raped in their lives3. These statistics are truly terrifying, but the long-term effects of PTSD magnify the impact of these events.
Treatment for PTSD is very effective, and evidence from many guidelines supports the use of trauma-focused psychological therapy and certain medications. Evidence suggests that psychological de-briefing right after a traumatic event is not effective. Treatment can be sought from therapists and other trained mental health providers. The role of telemedicine, or using electronic and virtual technologies to provide care, is still being studied for PTSD. Some recent evidence, however, shows that video evaluations are comparable to in-person assessments in accurately assessing PTSD4, which can provide easier access to people who have difficulty accessing mental health services. While the trauma-focused interventions have not been fully studied, telemental health visits can be used very effectively to supplement in person care, to continue with PTSD education and stress management, symptom management, and coping-skills training5.
In order for more women to receive appropriate treatment and care following traumatic events, we need to re-conceptualize PTSD as a disease that affects all genders rather than associating it with only men or certain professions—the first step to treatment is being able to recognize the disorder itself.
- “Sex Differences in Trauma and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: A Quantitative Review of 25 Years of Research,” David F. Tolin, PhD, Institute of Living and University of Connecticut School of Medicine and Edna B. Foa, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Psychological Bulletin, Vol. 132, No. 6.
- “Women are diagnosed with PTSD more than men even though they encounter fewer traumatic events, says research”, American Psychological Association, 19 November 2006, http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2006/11/ptsd-rates.aspx
- Vogt, Dawn. “Research on Women, Trauma and PTSD”, National Center for PTSD, 23 February 2016, https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/women/women-trauma-ptsd.asp
- Porcari, C.E., Amdur, R.L., Koch, E.I., Richard, D.C., Favorite, T., Bartis, B., & Liberzon, I. (2009). Assessment of post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans by videoconferencing and by face-to-face methods. Journal of Telemedicine and Telecare, 15, 89-94.
- Morland, Leslie, et al. “PTSD and Telemental Health”, National Center for PTSD, 31 Jan. 2007, www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treatment/overview/ptsd-telemental.asp.