Despite widely held beliefs, trauma is quite common. Over 50% of women go through a traumatic event in their lifetime, and of that number, many will develop PTSD, or posttraumatic stress disorder. Trauma can affect anyone and should not be seen as a weakness. Here, we will explore the symptoms of PTSD and the differences between traumas in men and women.
The symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder typically appear within a month of an event but may arise years later, even after getting help at an outpatient treatment center. The signs of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts. A woman with PTSD will have recurring, persistent memories of the event, even after trying to block it out. Smelling, hearing, or seeing something that evokes memories of a traumatic event can cause emotional distress that may come in the form of heart palpitations, headaches, tremors, and panic attacks.
- Avoidance. Those with PTSD, including women, will avoid places, people, and situations that remind them of traumatic events. As post-traumatic stress disorder gets worse, women tend to isolate themselves from others.
- Changes in mood and thought processes. Whether or not they experience flashbacks, women with PTSD may feel guilty, numb, hopeless, and suicidal. As women are twice as likely as men to experience severe trauma, these behaviours are more common among females.
- Behavioral changes. A woman with PTSD will show significant behavioural changes, such as aggression, agitation, and angry outbursts.
Other signs of post-traumatic stress disorder in women include trouble focusing, difficulty sleeping, and the inability to focus. If you or someone you love is affected by PTSD, there’s help available.
Gender-based differences in posttraumatic stress disorder
While anyone can experience PTSD, statistics show sizable gender differences in its prevalence. According to a study by the National Center for PTSD, approximately 10% of women have the disorder in their lifetime compared to less than five percent of men.
Several studies on PTSD show that women are more than twice as likely to experience it than men. These studies revealed a few potential causes for the disparity.
- Trauma type. While evidence shows that women are exposed to fewer traumas during a lifetime, they’re still more vulnerable to PTSD. Men are much more likely to endure traumas such as combat and physical assault—which typically occur at advanced ages. Women, however, are more likely to experience sexual abuse and assault at younger ages. Approximately 20% of women suffer a sexual assault at some point in their lives, and the effects of these events are so devastating that 94% of victims experience PTSD symptoms within two weeks of an event.
- Gender roles and cultural expectations. Aside from the type of trauma, gender and cultural roles contribute to the higher frequency of trauma among women. Studies show that female PTSD is more common in cultures with rigid gender roles because women feel more vulnerable than men.
- Coping strategies. Women’s ways of dealing with stress also increase their susceptibility to further trauma. It’s known that women and men handle stress differently. Women tend to reach out for support after traumatic events, and they’re more susceptible to the effects of PTSD if they don’t have strong social networks.
While anyone can experience posttraumatic stress disorder, it’s more common among women than men. Thankfully, reprocessing therapy, eye movement desensitisation, and other therapies mitigate the effects of PTSD in women. By showing support, not making assumptions about their background or gender, and eliminating the social stigma around mental health, we can make the world a safer and more welcoming place for women.
David Radar, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.