Men and women are different in many ways, and researchers have found one more difference to add to the list. It appears that females are more vulnerable to “post- traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD for short.
PTSD is an emotional/psychological reaction to an extremely stressful or traumatic event. Examples of a triggering event include physical assault, a serious car accident, a natural disaster (such as a tornado or tsunami), an animal attack, child abuse, rape, witnessing other people being injured or killed, etc. People in certain occupations, such as police, firefighters, military staff, and paramedics, are more likely to experience PTSD than others are, due to obvious reasons.
PTSD can take over a person’s life. The intrusive symptoms include sleep problems, nightmares, lack of interest in food, irritability, feeling of numbness or detachment, loss of memory, a tendency to be jumpy, flashbacks, depression, and anxiety. Usually lasting several months, this condition is not considered a normal response to a traumatic event, but rather an anxiety disorder that usually requires treatment. Treatment typically involves some combination of psychotherapy and drug therapy (usually an antidepressant is administered).
This disorder and the way it affects people is a topic that is not yet fully understood. In the latest study, published recently in the American Psychological Association’s Psychological Bulletin, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine looked back on 25 years’ worth of studies to check out whether or not gender seemed to play a role in PTSD.
The review covered studies performed between 1980 and 2005, which came to a total of 290. After checking all of these studies out, the researchers found that the female subjects were twice as likely to be diagnosed as having PTSD than the male subjects were.
Now, you might think that the numbers could be skewed — perhaps because women were more likely to experience traumatic events. Not so! In fact, the University of Pennsylvania researchers found that, among the 290 studies, the MEN experienced the greatest number of such events — the male subjects were 23% more likely to have been exposed to trauma than the women were.
The researchers also took a look at the specific types of traumatic events experienced to see if there was a difference when it came to gender. They did find that men were more likely to have been involved in serious accidents or physical assaults, or to have witnessed other people killed or injured. Meanwhile, the traumatic events experienced by the women were usually sexual assaults, rapes, or types of childhood abuse.
However, this doesn’t seem to be what makes the difference in vulnerability to PTSD. The researchers rejected this possibility when they compared men and women who went through the same types of trauma — and the women still were at a greater risk for suffering the subsequent anxiety disorder. Moreover, they reviewed the cases of males and females who had gone through sexual abuse/assault and found that both genders had similar rates of PTSD.
Now, all that remains is to figure out why there is such a difference in the way males and females react to traumatic circumstances. Could it be a chemical or structural difference? Perhaps our brains react differently to extreme stress. Alternatively, the source of the schism in PTSD rates could be social. Men and women are taught to deal with life differently. Or it could be a combination of the two. The research continues!