Obviously, traumatic events can happen to people of either sex. When they do, what often results is a long-term issue that can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). However, there is an important detail that too often goes unexamined. Among the 8 percent of Americans who will develop PTSD in their lives, women are more than twice as likely to do so than men.
On top of that, women with PTSD are also at greater risk of being diagnosed with concurrent mental health conditions. Meanwhile, women are far more likely to be sexually assaulted and of those who are raped, more than half develop PTSD. Clearly, we all should be paying closer attention to these trends.
What Causes PTSD in Women?
There are well-known causes of trauma for which everyone is at risk. These include:
- Being victimized by a crime
- Loss of a loved one
- Injury, illness, or disability
- Neglect or abandonment
- Living in a war zone
- Natural disasters
- Being trafficked or prostituted
- Physical, sexual, and emotional abuse
- Domestic violence
The list goes on but the last three items above, without a doubt, impact females far more than males. Nine out of 10 sexual assault survivors are women. At the same time, women are more often disbelieved when reporting such a crime. This partly explains why men get treatment for PTSD four times faster (on average) than women. In other words, PTSD can look in women like something that society downplays.
Women and PTSD Diagnosis
Once women are heard and trauma is identified as a catalyst, the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis is virtually the same as it is for men. In other words, you must present with the below symptoms for at least one month — extreme enough to hamper your daily functioning. These signs and symptoms must include at least one symptom of:
- Re-experiencing the trauma
- Arousal and reactivity
When it comes to cognition and mood symptoms, a mental health practitioner will be looking for at least two symptoms.
PTSD Symptoms in Women
What’s crucial to keep in mind is that everyone experiences PTSD in their own way. There are personality and environmental factors, of course. Also, the specific cause of the trauma can play a role. One particular difference between men and women is this: Men with PTSD are at greater risk for substance abuse. Women, more likely, struggle with an anxiety disorder.
All that said, it’s expected that all PTSD survivors will have gone through some version of the criteria listed above.
- Intrusive, distressing thoughts
- Physical sensations similar to those experienced during the traumatic event
2. Arousal and Reactivity
- Ongoing tension and feeling on edge
- Sleep disturbances
- Easily startled
As you might imagine, this symptom has people going out of their way to avoid anything that reminds them of the experience, e.g. people, places, and more.
4. Cognition and Mood Symptoms
Cognitively, a person may forget the details of the traumatic event. In terms of mood, someone with PTSD may display a lack of trust, intense guilt and shame, and an inability to enjoy activities that once excited them.
Effective Treatment Is Available
As touched on above, the first step is for women to seek help and to find practitioners who are compassionate and trauma-informed. From there, a wide range of proven treatments exist — therapy and medications among them. Trauma survivors can heal and recover. They can thrive again. With the support of an experienced therapist, they can find a safe space to explore their memories and emotions.