Research suggests that women may experience some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) differently than men. They are also more likely to develop the condition following trauma, but it usually takes much longer for women to be diagnosed.
Statistics suggest that women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD at some point in their lives. They also tend to experience these symptoms for longer periods and are more sensitive to reminders of their trauma.1
Signs and Symptoms
It’s normal to feel upset, anxious, or frightened after something traumatic happens. For many people, such feelings gradually fade in the days and weeks after a traumatic event, but these symptoms can become more serious for others.
PTSD is marked by feelings of distress, anxiety, and reliving the traumatic event. People sometimes avoid anything that might remind them of the trauma they endured. Common symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts
- Avoiding reminders of the trauma
- Startling easily
- Self-destructive behavior
- Loss of interest in activities
- Emotional detachment
People who have PTSD also have an increased risk for suicide.2
Why Women Experience PTSD Differently
Why do men and women tend to experience PTSD differently? One theory centers on the different ways that men and women tend to experience mental health problems. Women are more likely to experience internalizing disorders (such as anxiety and depression), where men are more likely to be affected by externalizing disorders (such as substance use disorders).
The diagnostic criteria for PTSD tend to focus more on internalizing symptoms, so it makes sense that women are more prone to developing this condition. After experiencing trauma, men may be more likely to develop problems marked by externalizing symptoms such as substance use.
Regardless of the different reasons why women may experience PTSD differently, research suggests that many women wait longer to seek treatment or never seek treatment at all.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, men typically go a year after the condition’s onset before being diagnosed and starting treatment. Women, on the other hand, average four years between the start of symptoms and diagnosis.
Untreated PTSD can have serious consequences in terms of both physical and mental health. People with untreated PTSD may be more likely to rely on unhealthy coping mechanisms such as alcohol or substance use. Women may also experience physical symptoms such as stomach issues, sexual dysfunction, and headaches.