How common is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a traumatic event. A traumatic event is something horrible and scary that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or that you have no control over what is happening.

Experiencing a traumatic event is not rare. About 60% of men and 50% of women experience this type of event in their lives.1 Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse.2 Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, or disaster or to witness death or injury.2

But going through a traumatic event doesn't mean you'll get PTSD. About 8% of men and 20% of women develop PTSD after a traumatic event.1

Here are some facts:

  • In the United States, about 8% of the population will have PTSD symptoms at some point in their lives.3
  • Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD. About 10% of women develop PTSD compared with 5% of men.4
  • Women are more likely than men to develop PTSD for all types of traumatic events, except sexual assault or abuse. When these traumas occur, men are just as likely as women to get PTSD.2

Who is most likely to develop PTSD?

Most people who experience a traumatic event won't develop PTSD. You are more likely to develop PTSD if you:4, 5

  • Were directly exposed to the traumatic event as a victim or a witness.
  • Were seriously injured during the event.
  • Went through a trauma that was long-lasting or very severe.
  • Believed that you or a family member was in danger.
  • Had a severe reaction during the event, such as crying, shaking, vomiting, or feeling apart from your surroundings.
  • Felt helpless during the event and were not able to help yourself or a loved one.

You also are more likely to develop PTSD if you:6, 7

  • Had an earlier life-threatening event or trauma, such as being abused as a child.
  • Have another mental health problem.
  • Have family members who have had mental health problems.
  • Have little support from family and friends.
  • Have recently lost a loved one, especially if it was unexpected.
  • Have had recent, stressful life changes.
  • Drink a lot of alcohol.
  • Are a woman.
  • Are poorly educated.
  • Are younger.

Some groups of people, including blacks and Hispanics, may be more likely than whites to develop PTSD.4, 7 This may be because these groups are more likely to experience a traumatic event. For example, in Vietnam, whites were in less combat than blacks, Hispanics, or Native Americans.8

Your culture or ethnic group also may affect how you react to PTSD. For example, people from groups that are open and willing to talk about problems may be more willing to seek help.

Citations

  1. Kessler RC, et al. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12): 1048–1060.
  2. Tolin D, Foa E (2006). Sex differences in trauma and posttraumatic stress disorder: A quantitative review of 25 years of research. Psychological Bulletin, 132(6): 959–992.
  3. American Psychiatric Association (2000). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th ed., text rev., pp. 463–472. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
  4. Kessler RC, et al. (1999). Epidemiological risk factors for PTSD. In R Yehuda, ed., Risk Factors for PTSD, pp. 23–59. Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Press.
  5. Kulka RA, et al. (1990). Evidence of post-traumatic stress disorder. In Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation, pp. 50–71. New York: Brunner/Mazel.
  6. American Psychiatric Association (2004). Practice guideline for the treatment of patients with acute stress disorder and posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry, 161(11, Suppl): 3–31.
  7. Breslau N, et al. (1995). Risk factors for PTSD-related traumatic events: A prospective analysis. American Journal of Psychiatry, 152(4): 529–534.
  8. Friedman MJ, et al. (2000). The Hawaii Vietnam veterans project: Is minority status a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder? Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 192(1): 42–50.

Last Updated: January 21, 2009

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