How PTSD Symptoms Vary in Men and Women

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a long-standing, debilitating mental health disruption that occurs after experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. PTSD has the clinical term “disorder” in it, which can be misleading. Having a trauma response to an event that is potentially life threatening, or has caused harm to you or others, is a normal physiological reaction. We are supposed to be on high alert in order for survival. There is nothing “disordered” about it, except for how it impacts your life after the event is over. 

What events contribute to the development of PTSD may vary, as what someone may consider trauma and have a significant reaction to, others may recover from more easily. Examples of trauma can include: accidents, sudden deaths, physical violence, sexual violence, childhood abuse, war, genocide, natural disaster, terrorism, and generally anything that may put someone’s physical and emotional safety at risk. Signs and symptoms of PTSD include:

  • Intrusive thoughts or flashbacks of the traumatic event
  • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about self or others
  • Arousal and reactive symptoms such as irritability, anger, reckless or self-destructive behaviors, startle response, difficulty concentrating or sleeping. 

Intrusive thoughts are repeated, involuntary memories of the trauma. Someone may also experience distressing dreams or flashbacks of the traumatic event. Flashbacks of the trauma have the potential to be so vivid and realistic, that people feel they are re-living the traumatic experience or seeing it before their eyes. Often, people will avoid reminders of the traumatic event. This can include avoiding people, places, activities, objects and situations that bring on distressing memories. People may try to avoid remembering or thinking about the traumatic event, or even talking about what happened or how they feel about it. Negative thoughts and feelings may include ongoing and distorted beliefs about oneself or others (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted”); ongoing fear, horror, anger, guilt or shame; much less interest in activities previously enjoyed; or feeling detached or estranged from others.

Women are diagnosed with PTSD as twice as often as men – 10% of women are likely to experience PTSD after a trauma versus 4% of men. Statistics say that men are more likely to experience trauma, however, are less likely to have a long standing reaction to the trauma. This could be due to reporting inconsistencies in men versus women, or that diagnostic criteria may skew towards women as culturally, women are more “allowed” to express uncomfortable emotions. Men may be more likely to experience physical trauma such as car accidents and war. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault, childhood abuse, sudden loss of a loved one, etc. Other reasons that women might get PTSD more often than men include that women are more likely to experience sexual assault. Sexual assault is more likely to cause PTSD than many other events. And, women may be more likely than men to blame themselves for their trauma experiences.

While men and women alike can experience any and all identified symptoms of PTSD, women may experience PTSD differently from men. PTSD symptoms in women can be: more likely than men to be easily startled, have more trouble feeling emotions (experiencing significant “numbness”), avoid things that remind them of the trauma, and feel depressed and anxious. PTSD symptoms in men are: more likely to feel anger and have trouble controlling their anger than women, and more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs as a result of trauma. PTSD in men and women can lead to the development of physical health problems, as well. Women usually experience PTSD symptoms for a longer period of time than men. Statistics show that women can experience symptoms for an average of 4 years versus 1 year for men, before diagnosis and treatment. 

It’s also important to note that gender non-binary, gender fluid, or gender non-conforming people also experience high rates of PTSD. They may experience more traumatic experiences, including discrimination, as a result of their gender identity. More research needs to be done on the impacts and symptom expression of non-binary/gender non-conforming individuals.

Trauma does not discriminate against gender. It is equally important that men, women, and gender non-conforming people have their trauma taken seriously. Access to resources to ensure that their mental health is taken care of after extremely distressing events is critically important to a full recovery of PTSD. 

This blog post is meant to be educational in nature and does not replace the advice of a medical professional. See full disclaimer. 

Works Cited

American Psychiatric Association. (n.d.-e). What Is Posttraumatic Stress Disorder? Retrieved March 31, 2020, from https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/ptsd/what-is-ptsd

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.). VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. Retrieved April 1, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp

Posttraumatic stress disorder. (2018, August 28). Retrieved April 1, 2020, from https://www.womenshealth.gov/mental-health/mental-health-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. (n.d.-b). VA.gov | Veterans Affairs. Retrieved April 3, 2020, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_women.asp

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