Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder that can occur in individuals who have endured or witnessed a traumatic event, such as being threatened with death, a natural disaster, a serious accident, a terrorist act or rape/sexual violence. According to the 2019 Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 60% of people have experienced some form of traumatic experience before reaching 17 years of age.
Literature has shown that traumatic experiences often lead to adverse outcomes on mental health and impact women at a higher rate than men. Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, display more sensitivity to the stimuli that reminds them of the trauma and experience a longer duration of PTSD symptoms. GlobalData epidemiologists determined that this skew toward women is caused by women being more likely to experience types of trauma that are more likely to result in PTSD and, as such, urge policymakers and healthcare professionals to be aware of the high burden of PTSD in women.
GlobalData estimates 11 million adults in the US have PTSD, with symptoms usually occurring within one month of a person experiencing the traumatic event. In some cases, however, symptoms may not present themselves until a few years after the traumatic event takes place. GlobalData examined the total prevalence of PTSD among men and women and the possible reasons why women have higher prevalence rates than men across the major pharmaceutical markets.
Figure 1 presents the current 12-month total prevalence of PTSD in ages 18 years and older in the US, France, Germany, Italy, the UK and Japan. The data are derived from GlobalData‘s Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Epidemiology Forecast to 2028 report. In the US, the current total prevalence rate of PTSD is significantly higher in women than in men, at 5.87% and 3.16% respectively. This trend is consistent across the other countries and raises questions about what might be causing the higher prevalence rates in women.
Although PTSD can happen to anyone, trauma outcomes differ for individuals who have experienced non-interpersonal trauma compared with interpersonal trauma. Those who have experienced interpersonal trauma are more vulnerable to developing mental health disorders. Women experience more interpersonal trauma than men, which may explain why women have a higher PTSD prevalence.
While evidence shows that exposure to trauma over a lifetime was lower among women than men, women remain more vulnerable to experiencing PTSD due to the specific type of trauma being experienced. Numbers from the National Sexual Violence Resource Centre showed that 90% of rape and sexual assault victims are women, while 9% are males. In addition, 20% of women may experience rape at some point in their life, while 1.4% of men will experience the same trauma. Culture and gender roles may also affect and contribute to the high prevalence of PTSD among women. The incidence of PTSD is more evident within communities that emphasise traditional gender roles, as women within these cultures feel more emotionally vulnerable and are more likely to develop PTSD.
The Covid-19 pandemic is likely to further skew PTSD prevalence towards women, causing more healthcare issues in this group. According to this year’s Society Watch Briefing UK report, data from the Mental Health of Children and Young People (MHCYP) survey, conducted last year, showed that one in six (16.0%) children aged 5–16 years had experienced trauma during the pandemic. Young women had the highest rate, with a probable mental disorder rate of 27.2% compared with 13.3% in young men.
More research is needed to understand trauma severity and the causes of international differences in PTSD prevalence among men and women. These findings will enable better policy reforms around sexual assault, rape and other forms of sexual violence, in addition to increasing support and mental health care access for women. Although women are at greater risk for negative outcomes after trauma, many do not seek mental health treatment. Untreated cases of PTSD symptoms can then lead to adverse physical health. It is important to understand the discrepancies in gender-related PTSD to further enhance approaches to treatment and minimise the severity of trauma.