Trauma is universal. Any person, young or old, rich or poor, man or woman, any nationality, religion, and socio-economic status can experience trauma. According to PTSD Alliance, in the U.S. alone an estimated 70 percent of adults have experienced a traumatic event at least once in their lives and up to 20 percent of them go on to develop Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). As information about PTSD becomes more readily available, we’re beginning to understand the gravity of trauma’s affect on our population.
And although trauma is universal, there are differences in the way men and women experience trauma, and in 7-8% of people, PTSD. It’s seen more often in women than men (10% versus 4% of men). Women are more likely to experience PTSD (and trauma in general) for a variety of reasons, including:
- Sexual assault (one study found 94% of sexual assault victims exhibit PTSD symptoms)
- Injury during attacks
- Multiple instances of trauma in a lifetime
- Type of traumas women exposed to have higher risk of PTSD
- Lack of social support (women in traditional cultures feel vulnerable)
- Continued stress after the event
- More physical reactions to trauma
- Lack of recognition that they are suffering from PTSD
Common Symptoms for Women
- Internalizing Symptoms. Often women don’t know they have PTSD because they internalize their symptoms. Instead of searching for answers to situations that happened to them, women often assume that there is something wrong with them. Women suffer from the shame that they did something to cause the trauma to happen.
- Avoidance. Another reaction more common in women is avoiding places and situations which remind them of the traumatic event. Since women are reminded of events and places through their senses, they are more likely to avoid places and people who remind them of trauma.
- Fear of Disbelief. Women are more likely to internalize their feelings for fear that those around them won’t believe their claims. The rejection or questioning they may experience prevents them from speaking up about the event or their emotional needs.
- Sensitivity Causing Physical Symptoms. Women are more likely to experience health issues after trauma. Chronic pain, autoimmune disorders, depression, migraines are not uncommon maladies women suffer after abuse or a traumatic event. Since women tend to internalize their reactions, their bodies are negatively affected by holding in their feelings.
- Women’s Coping Strategy. Women are more likely to be the nurturer in a family, a role which they maintain under any circumstance. Instead of taking care of themselves, women often bury themselves in their responsibilities, to the detriment of their health. They usually have a less sensitized fight or flight reaction, instead looking for social reactions (caring for others, looking to solve the problem without fighting). This keeps them in the traumatic situation longer.
The widespread occurrence of violent trauma affecting women is evidenced by the increasing numbers of women affected by PTSD and other trauma-induced mental health issues. On this International Women’s Day, we stress the importance of recognizing trauma symptoms and encourage women everywhere to seek mental health treatment, for themselves and their loved ones who may be exhibiting signs of trauma.
Recognizing the equal need for mental health treatment for all trauma survivors is key to making our world a gender equal world!