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Who gets PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and why? – Trauma Series by David Campell, MD


Since announcing Trauma Services as a specialty at Mind Therapy Clinic, we’ve been receiving a lot of questions about therapy as it relates to trauma. Most commonly people want to know what is PTSD, and who gets it and why?

With so many traumatic experiences in today’s news – from police shootings, racial tensions, war, car crashes, crosswalk and bicycle accidents, physical and sexual assaults, gun violence, natural disasters, racial and economic fallouts, etc. – it makes sense that there is a heightened awareness and interest in the need to fully understand the impact of these events and treatments for those who are affected.  Media often presents PTSD with a military focus, but recent research has revealed that civilian PTSD is 13 times more common. In fact, an estimated one out of every nine women develops PTSD (more than twice as likely as men).*  So, what is considered PTSD and who should receive treatment? 

Let’s start with how does someone become traumatized?

When people experience or witness an event where they feel their life was in danger, it is normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge or have trouble sleeping afterwards. Initially, it may be difficult to concentrate or carry out your usual daily activities, but most people feel better within a few weeks. However, those continuing to suffer longer than a month after the event may have developed PTSD.

About half the population will experience a traumatic event at some point during their lifetime, and of those people, 8% of men and 20% of women will go on to develop PTSD. In cases of sexual assault or combat trauma, the incidence may even be higher. **

How do you know if you have PTSD?

If you are you struggling with activities of daily living – at work and school, with family, and social activities –  from some or all of these symptoms, you may have PTSD.

  • Intense emotion and reactivity
  • Severe fear, anxiety, or depression
  • Desire to avoid thoughts, people, and places
  • Disrupted eating and sleeping patterns
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Inability to form close, satisfying relationships
  • Terrifying memories, nightmares or flashbacks
  • Emotional numbness
  • Addictive use of alcohol or drugs
  • Unrelenting guilt, shame, self-blame
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating
  • Withdrawal and disconnection from others
  • Obsessive thought patterns that may manifest as compulsions, addictions, and codependency

Who gets PTSD and who doesn’t?

Research has shown that one of the largest factors in determining whether an individual develops PTSD is their “stress resilience” – that is, the ability to “bounce back” after an upsetting event.

What makes some people resilient and others vulnerable? The variables include:

  • Prior exposure to trauma
  • Social isolation
  • Access to treatment after the event

Prior Trauma. Unlike those diseases that cause your body to build immunity after recovery, prior exposure to a trauma, especially childhood trauma (abuse or neglect) increases the risk that a new trauma later in life will trigger the symptoms of PTSD to appear or worsen. For example, a person raised in a domestically violent home will have higher chance after another traumatic event such as a car accident to develop PTSD than others.

Social isolation. After a trauma, some people tend to isolate themselves from family and friends, feeling like they need to deal with the after effects on their own.  This isolation can make PTSD more likely to occur, while social support has the opposite effect and therefore the incidence of PTSD is reduced. 

Access to treatment. Once symptoms of PTSD appear, getting help early makes it easier to treat than when symptoms have gone untreated for many years. But, for those that have delayed getting treatment, don’t despair because Chronic PTSD lasting many years can also be treated.

If you have questions about trauma and PTSD, feel free to send me a note at  

About David Campell, MD, Trauma Specialist at Mind Therapy Clinic, and Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians

* Statistics from National Institutes of Health, Department of Veteran Affairs, and Sidran Institute

** Understanding PTSD brochure.