Post-traumatic stress disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, impacts an estimated 6.8 percent of American adults over the course of their lifetime. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately “3.6 percent of U.S. adults had PTSD in the past year” and the vast majority of those suffering from the often debilitating effects of PTSD are women.
Studies show that the past-year prevalence of PTSD in the United States was 5.2 percent for females and 1.8 percent for males, which means that the rates of PTSD in women are more than double what men experience.
With symptoms ranging from sleep disturbances to flashbacks, memory loss, and even suicidal thoughts, PTSD can lead to physical, emotional, and mental health issues such as obesity, drug addiction, severe anxiety and difficulty with day-to-day activities.
PTSD in Women – It’s More Common Than You Might Think
Researchers have also found that “the lifetime prevalence of PTSD is about 10-12 percent in women” – that means women have a greater than one-in-ten chance of developing PTSD at some point.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, PTSD may be diagnosed once a person has experienced persistent symptoms for a minimum of one month following a traumatic event, such as a violent assault, car crash, rape, abuse, or another type of traumatic situation that is beyond his or her control.
People can also be traumatized by a series of events that happen over time, such as an abusive childhood, ongoing domestic abuse, or while dealing with a life-threatening disease such as cancer. Currently, experts are unable to accurately predict which people will develop PTSD.
Female Veterans and PTSD
Rates of PTSD in women who have served in the military are particularly high, and with female service members making up approximately 20 percent of the enlisted ranks, experts believe that post-traumatic stress disorder will become even more prevalent among women who serve.
In a recent survey of 185 female vets with PTSD who were part of either Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) or both, 70 percent of the respondents reported experiencing at least one violent combat experience involving direct fire, improvised explosive devices, or human remains.
Another notable factor that explains why women veterans are at a much higher risk of developing PTSD than their male counterparts is gender-specific exposure to military sexual trauma or MST, which impacts an estimated one in five women vets. Research shows those female service members who have experienced MST (defined as any unwanted sexual contact or non-consensual activity) are a staggering five to eight times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder in comparison to women in the service who have not experienced MST.
What Causes High Rates of PTSD in Women?
Research into PTSD in women has been somewhat limited, and according to Dr. Miranda Olff, a professor at the University of Amsterdam Faculty of Medicine, “to date, we are still behind in gender and sex-sensitive research and reporting“.
Experts believe that there are complex biological and psychosocial reasons why women develop PTSD more frequently than men. What is known is that women face a number of risk factors, including the increased likelihood that they will be sexually assaulted, that women have fewer financial resources compared to men (which leads to a lack of control) and that women are more likely to be victims of domestic abuse than men.
Women also have a tendency to react emotionally to trauma, while men are more inclined to display a fight-or-flight response. For example, a female may try to negotiate with an assailant, where a man may either respond with violence or simply flee the situation.
Signs and Symptoms of PTSD in Women
While no two people experience PTSD in exactly the same way, there are a number of common symptoms that occur among women suffering from this debilitating condition:
- Experiencing ‘flashbacks’ – vivid, uncontrollable memories of the traumatic event or events
- Recurring dreams and nightmares that elicit the feelings associated with the trauma, such as fear, anger, and intense grief
- Intense, sudden, or ongoing feelings that are triggered by exposure to specific cues related to the trauma, such as certain odors, smells, colors, or places
- Physical reactions to reminders of the trauma, such as headaches, sweating, nausea, elevated blood pressure, diarrhea, skin rashes, and/or visual impairment
Having post-traumatic stress disorder can make remembering details of the traumatic event difficult, which is often the case with women who are victims of a sexual assault. PTSD in women also leads to persistent, negative thoughts along with feelings of fear, anger, or shame.
It’s common for both men and women with PTSD to seek out drugs and alcohol in an effort to manage their recurring thoughts, feelings, and physical symptoms. Unfortunately, attempts to self-medicate often lead to even more problematic issue such as an escalation in risk-taking behaviors, increased difficulty with memory and concentration, and negative interactions with law enforcement officials.
The good news is that help is available. PTSD treatments for women are highly effective, accessible, and in the hands of the right professionals, can provide lasting relief from the life-altering impacts of PTSD.
Don’t Try To Face PTSD Alone
PTSD in women is more common than you might think and left untreated, it can destroy your life. Here at FHE Health, we offer innovative, cutting-edge treatments for PTSD that are customized to your unique needs.
If you or someone you care about is suffering from PTSD, call our team of compassionate, professional us at (844) 299-0618 – we’re here for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.