Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is a mental health condition springing from exposure to a traumatizing life event. The anxiety disorder is hallmarked by symptoms of avoidance, emotional numbness, hyper arousal and occasions of re-living the traumatic event. A review study, due for publication in this month’s issue of the Psychological Bulletin, says that women are diagnosed with the condition more often than men. Reviewers suggest that adjustments to the diagnostic criteria may be called for.
Generally speaking, men encounter traumatic experiences more often than do women. Nonetheless, the research review which examined a quarter century of data found that women were more likely to receive a PTSD diagnosis. The review spanned research information from 290 studies performed from 1980 to 2005 and was looking specifically for data pertaining to which gender was most likely to face traumatic events and who most often was left dealing with PTSD.
Reviewers discovered that females are more often involved in traumatizing events relating to sexual victimization, including childhood sexual abuse. Women were less often involved in non-sexual forms of abuse and/or assault, severe accidents, combat experiences or disaster-connected traumas. In other words, women most often were affected by sexually-oriented trauma, while men most often witnessed or experienced some form of physical violence.
The reviewers examined not only differences, but also compared PTSD rates when men and women underwent similar experiences. Even in those instances female rates for PTSD diagnosis were higher. Experts suggest that this could be because men and women have different emotional responses to like traumas. In addition, it could be that women’s higher rates of prior sexual abuse/victimization could make them more vulnerable to PTSD when faced with the same trauma as a man such as an automobile accident.
A University of Oregon study looked at survey responses from over 1,000 college community participants in examining the PTSD gender-gap. The study proved interesting because it found an unexpected equality in rates of self-reported PTSD among men and women. The study confirmed other research which describes women as experiencing more sexual than physical related traumas.
While women more readily met the diagnostic criteria for PTSD, this could be more attributable to the diagnostic tool rather than actual gender-related predispositions. Women are known to more often experience and report symptoms such as depression and anxiety than are men. The Oregon study found that women were more likely to use avoidance as a coping mechanism when dealing with PTSD. By contrast, men more frequently demonstrated substance abuse or behavior related issues, such as anger and hyper vigilance.
Certainly more research is warranted. Of particular value would be research that looks at how diagnostic criteria could better take into account the gender differences in PTSD-related symptoms.