Why Women Are At A Greater Risk of PTSD Than Men: A Comparative Study

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Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating and persistent psychological disorder that occurs after experiencing or witnessing any life changing or life threatening traumatic event in life. The traumatic event can include near to death experience, accident, demise of loved ones, natural disaster, war, abuse or sexual assault.

The common symptoms of PTSD include:

  1. Negative thoughts and reoccurring thoughts of the traumatic incident.
  2. Experiencing anxiety, fear, loneliness, sadness, isolation and guilt.
  3. Self -harm reactions taking shape such as suicidal thoughts, anger, irritability, self destructive behavior and lack of focus.
  4. Difficulty in sleeping.

Prevalence of PTSD in men and women?

There are many studies conducted on the symptoms and rate of PTSD occurrence in men and women that yielded very different results. It was evident that 10% of women developed PTSD after the traumatic event while only 4% of the men reported PTSD after the traumatic incident. This statistics might 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, to establish this fact many other studies were done out of which a study conducted by US Veteran studies remains prominent. It showed results supporting the data that every 5 in 10 women suffer from PTSD and while only 2 in 10 men suffered from PTSD after any traumatic incident. While some symptoms of PTSD like re-experiencing, numbing, avoidance and hyper arousal are same for both men and women, there are many other symptoms detected in women that were significantly different than men.

How risk of experiencing trauma differs in men and women?

A large study conducted on mental health showed that both men and women broadly experience different types of trauma. Men majorly experience physical traumas such as war or accident. On the other hand, women are more likely to experience both emotional and physical traumas such as sexual assault or childhood abuse. Incidents of sexual assault are significantly higher for women than men.

How symptoms in women are different than men?

Studies have shown that women are at a greater risk of sexual assault than men. There are evidences that have shown that women sustain injuries during the incident leading to added consequences of emotional turmoil. Women suffering from PTSD show signs of depression, fear, become emotionally numb, and avoid situations, objects or person that remind them of the trauma. On the other hand men are more likely to express their PTSD through uncontrolled anger, irritability and developing susceptibility to do drugs, alcoholism or any other substance abuse.

Women, however, do not get enough social support after the trauma and experience severe emotional reactions during the time of the incident. It results in longstanding PTSD symptoms. These women then get addicted to drugs or alcohol to numb their emotions. A host of studies have shown women experience symptoms of PTSD for longer period than men. Women might experience PTSD perpetually up to four years, while men are likely to suffer from PTSD for just a year.

However, both men and women can develop physical health issues due to PTSD.

Research done on LGBTQ community also shows that they experience PTSD resulting from gender identity crisis, social isolation and discrimination. Several incidents of crime, violence and abuse reported for LGBTQ community often lead to a greater risk for PTSD in them.

Women in military are at a higher risk of emotional injury, especially during times of war. Although men are more likely to be involved in hostilities, the number of women getting subjected to hostilities is also on the rise. Also, women in the military are more likely to be sexually harassed or attacked than men. More research is needed to better understand the impact of hostility and sexual violence on women vis-à-vis enduring PTSD symptoms.

What are the challenges faced during PTSD treatment?

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

How we can help?

Mental illness or trauma is not gender biased, and can affect anyone irrespective of age, gender or class. What is important is to recognize the symptoms and seek PTSD treatment at the earliest.

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