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The Role of Gender in PTSD

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, more commonly known as PTSD, is a condition which can affect both men and women differently. Although symptoms are generally interchangeable between genders, the chances of a woman developing PTSD is significantly greater than those for a man. It is now commonly accepted that women are more at risk of developing the condition, with some studies suggesting that the risk is doubled. To understand more about this condition, it is important to examine the key differences between the sexes to understand how gender and PTSD relate.

Symptoms of PTSD

The disorder is developed after exposure to a traumatic event. Although this condition is most commonly associated with combatants and other persons exposed to war zones, it can also be caused by assault, rape, domestic violence, a traumatic motor vehicle accident, or any event that is significantly shocking, frightening, or exceptionally dangerous.

Some of the most common symptoms experienced by PTSD sufferers include;

  • Profound emotional upset and distress when recalling the events of the traumatic incident.
  • Waking memories (flashbacks), or recurring nightmares that recall the event.
  • Feelings of isolation that lead to withdrawal from family, friends, and greater society.
  • Anxiety and heightened feelings of fear and alertness.
  • Problems with sleeping.
  • Inability to concentrate on daily tasks.
  • Irritability, mood swings, or uncharacteristic aggressive behavior.
  • Depression that may result in a disinterest in relationships or activities that were previously enjoyed.

While some of the symptoms can cross over with depression and general shock (indeed, PTSD and depression often intertwine), they are not the only dangers that come from PTSD. Any of the above symptoms can lead to serious problems or incidents, which include but are not limited to poor decision making and legal problems, self-harm, violence towards others, and drug or alcohol abuse.

What are the Differences Between Genders?

None of the listed symptoms are exclusive to a particular gender, however, the chances of developing them are quite different. Women are more likely to have passive symptoms such as withdrawal and depression, whereas men are more likely to show external symptoms such as aggression and irritability. Some research also suggests that men are more likely to develop substance abuse problems when suffering from PTSD.

Ignoring the symptoms, the key difference is that women are more likely to develop PTSD following any particular event. In one study by the American Psychological Association, 7.1% of male subjects developed PTSD after being exposed to traumatic events, while the female group had over 23% of subjects develop PTSD after exposure. There were no differences discovered in relation to race or any other major differentiator, which lends further evidence to the fact that women are more vulnerable to developing the condition.

Because research into PTSD is still emerging, it is not completely understood why women are more susceptible to developing the condition. One reason might be the type of traumatic events that women are most commonly exposed to. Assaultive violence could play a key role. In the same study by the APA, it was found that women who were exposed to assaultive violence early, and then later exposed to non-assaultive violence, were at an increased risk of developing PTSD. Curiously, the earlier incidents were considered more traumatic than the later event, which suggests that sensitization occurs, allowing for a less traumatic event to trigger PTSD.

One problem with this research is that it weighs heavily on assaultive violence. PTSD could also develop from non-assaultive and even non-physical events. As an example, continuous emotional abuse could become a trigger for PTSD later in life. It is clear that further research is needed on the subject, but the fact that women are more likely to develop PTSD is still an important fact.

Another major difference is how women respond to treatment. Although counselling is often an important and effective part of dealing with PTSD, particularly when exposure therapy is used, there are also cases where medication is prescribed to a sufferer. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are known effective treatments for depression and anxiety. Because of this, they are sometimes used to help in the treatment of PTSD. Research published by the Journal of the American Medical Association found that the use of SSRIs had more positive results for women than for men, possibly suggesting that there could be a hormonal influence on the efficacy of pharmaceutical treatments for PTSD. Again, even this limited research further shows that there are clear differences in PTSD when looking at the genders separately.

Getting Help for PTSD

Despite the difference that gender plays, PTSD is a serious condition for either male or female sufferers. Treatment should be sought whether for yourself or somebody you know who is suffering from the condition. With the right combination of professional treatment, PTSD self-help, and (in some cases) medication, PTSD can be managed to allow for normal productivity and quality of life.

More on: Trauma
Latest update: October 5, 2016