Facts About Women And Trauma

Facts About Women And Trauma.

Traumatic events include physical, psychological and sexual abuse; terrorism and war; domestic violence; witnessing violence against others; and accidents and natural disasters. They can result in serious stress and detrimental consequences for survivors and their families. Approximately one half (50 percent) of all individuals will be exposed to at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. Although the majority of individuals will be able to absorb the trauma over time, many survivors will experience long-lasting problems. Approximately 8 percent of survivors will develop posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Many survivors currently living with PTSD experience symptoms that are both chronic and severe. These include nightmares, insomnia, somatic disturbances, difficulty with intimate relationships, fear, anxiety, anger, shame, aggression, suicidal behaviours, loss of trust and isolation. Psychological disorders may also occur in conjunction with PTSD including depression, anxiety and alcohol/substance abuse problems.

Trauma is common in women; five out of ten women experience a traumatic event. Women tend to experience different traumas than men. While both men and women report the same symptoms of PTSD (hyperarousal, reexperiencing, avoidance, and numbing), some symptoms are more common for women or men. Research indicates that women are twice as likely to develop PTSD, experience a longer duration of posttraumatic symptoms and display more sensitivity to stimuli that remind them of the trauma. The most common trauma for women is sexual assault or child sexual abuse. About one in three women will experience a sexual assault in their lifetime. Rates of sexual assault are higher for women than men. Women are also more likely to be neglected or abused in childhood, to experience domestic violence, or to have a loved one suddenly die.

Not all women who experience a traumatic event develop PTSD. Women are more likely to develop PTSD if they:

  • Have a past mental health problem (for example depression or anxiety),
  • Experienced a very severe or life-threatening trauma,
  • Were sexually assaulted,
  • Were injured during the event,
  • Had a severe reaction at the time of the event,
  • Experienced other stressful events afterwards, and
  • Do not have good social support.

Women are more likely to be jumpy, to have more trouble feeling emotions, and to avoid things that remind them of the trauma than men. Men are more likely to feel angry and to have trouble controlling their anger than women. Women with PTSD are more likely to feel depressed and anxious, while men with PTSD are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs. Both women and men who experience PTSD may develop physical health problems.

Although women are at greater risk for negative consequences following traumatic events, many often hesitate to seek mental health treatment. Survivors often wait years to receive help, while others never receive treatment at all. Untreated posttraumatic symptoms not only have tremendous mental health implications but can also lead to adverse effects on physical health. Female survivors may encounter physical symptoms including headaches, gastrointestinal problems and sexual dysfunction. Although the mental and physical symptoms of PTSD stress can be quite debilitating, trauma is often undiagnosed by health professionals due to a lack of training, time and resources.

There are good treatments for PTSD. However, not everyone who experiences a trauma seeks treatment. Women may be more likely than men to seek help after a traumatic event. At least one study found that women respond to treatment as well as or better than men. This may be because women are more comfortable sharing feelings and talking about personal things with others than men. There are a variety of effective treatment interventions for women who have survived traumatic events, including cognitive-behavioural therapy, group treatment, pharmacotherapy and psychodynamic interventions.

Credits: American Psychological Association, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.