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PTSD: National Center for PTSD

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How Common is PTSD?

 

How Common is PTSD?

Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a trauma. A trauma is a shocking and scary event that you see or that happens to you. During this type of event, you think that your life or others' lives are in danger. You may feel afraid or think that you have no control over what is happening.

Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 (or 60%) of men and 5 of every 10 (or 50%) of women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.

Going through a trauma does not mean you'll get PTSD, though. Even though over half of us go through some type of trauma, a much smaller percent develop PTSD.

Here are some facts (based on the U.S. population):

  • About 7 or 8 out of every 100 people (or 7-8% of the population) will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • About 10 of every 100 (or 10%) of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4 of every 100 (or 4%) of men. Learn more about women, trauma and PTSD.

Who is most likely to develop PTSD?

Although most people who go through trauma will not get PTSD, you are more likely to develop PTSD if you:

  • Were directly exposed to the trauma as a victim or a witness
  • Were seriously hurt during the event
  • Went through a trauma that was long-lasting or very severe
  • Believed that you were in danger
  • Believed that a family member was in danger
  • Had a severe reaction during the event, such as crying, shaking, vomiting, or feeling apart from your surroundings
  • Felt helpless during the trauma and were not able to help yourself or a loved one

You are also more likely to develop PTSD if you:

  • Had an earlier life-threatening event or trauma, such as being abused as a child
  • Have another mental health problem
  • Have family members who have had mental health problems
  • Have little support from family and friends
  • Have recently lost a loved one, especially if it was not expected
  • Have had recent, stressful life changes
  • Drink a lot of alcohol
  • Are a woman
  • Are poorly educated
  • Are younger

Some groups of people, including African-Americans and Hispanics, may be more likely than whites to develop PTSD. This may be because these groups are more likely to go through a trauma. For example, in Veterans who survived Vietnam, a larger percent of African-Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans were in combat than whites.

Your culture may also affect how you react to trauma. For example, people from groups that are open and willing to talk about problems may be more willing to seek help.

PTSD and the Military

When you are in the military, you may see combat. You may have been on missions that exposed you to horrible and life-threatening experiences. You may have been shot at, seen a buddy get shot, or seen death. These types of events can lead to PTSD.

The number of Veterans with PTSD varies by service era:

  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF): About 11-20 out of every 100 Veterans (or between 11-20%) who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.
  • Gulf War (Desert Storm): About 12 out of every 100 Gulf War Veterans (or 12%) have PTSD in a given year.
  • Vietnam War: About 15 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans (or 15%) were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 (or 30%) of Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

Other factors in a combat situation can add more stress to an already stressful situation. This may contribute to PTSD and other mental health problems. These factors include what you do in the war, the politics around the war, where the war is fought, and the type of enemy you face.

Another cause of PTSD in the military can be military sexual trauma (MST). This is any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurs while you are in the military. MST can happen to both men and women and can occur during peacetime, training, or war.

Among Veterans who use VA health care, about:

  • 23 out of 100 women (or 23%) reported sexual assault when in the military.
  • 55 out of 100 women (or 55%) and 38 out of 100 men (or 38%) have experienced sexual harassment when in the military.

There are many more male Veterans than there are female Veterans. So, even though military sexual trauma is more common in women Veterans, over half of all Veterans with military sexual trauma are men.

Sources

This fact sheet is based on a more detailed version located in the "Professional" section of our website: Epidemiology of PTSD.

Date this content was last updated is at the bottom of the page.

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Where to Get Help for PTSD

The National Center for PTSD does not provide direct clinical care, individual referrals or benefits information.