Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after you have been through a trauma. A trauma is something horrible and scary 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 60% of men and 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 doesn't mean you'll get PTSD, though. Although 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.):
Although most people who go through trauma will not get PTSD, you are more likely to develop PTSD if you:
You are also more likely to develop PTSD if you:
Some groups of people, including blacks 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 blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans were in combat than whites.
Your culture or ethnic group also may 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.
If you are in the military, you may have seen 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 shot, or seen death. These are types of events that can lead to PTSD.
Experts think PTSD occurs:
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 it's 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 using VA health care, about:
Even though military sexual trauma is far more common in women Veterans, over half of all Veterans with military sexual trauma are men. This is because there are many more male Veterans than there are females.
Kessler, R.C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E. Hughes, M., & Nelson, C.B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52(12), 1048-1060.
Kessler, R. C., Berglund, P., Demler, O., Jin, R., & Walters, E. E. (2005a). Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Archives of General Psychiatry, 62, 593-602.
Kulka, R.A., Schlenger, W.E., Fairbank, J.A. Hough, R.L., Jordan, B.K., Marmar, C.R., & Weiss, D.S. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam War Generation: Report of Findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, New York: Brunner/Mazel.
Tanielian, T. & Jaycox, L. (Eds.)(2008). Invisible Wounds of War: Psychological and Cognitive Injuries, Their Consequences, and Services to Assist Recovery. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.