PTSD Awareness: Who Is Most At Risk


Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can occur after someone has gone through or witnessed a frightening and shocking experience, or trauma.

Although approximately half of us experience at least one trauma in our lifetime, only a small percentage will develop PTSD symptoms.

Risk Factors

People more likely to develop PTSD after a trauma are those who:

  • Are directly exposed to the shocking event, either as witness, or victim.
  • Are seriously injured during the traumatic event.
  • Believed they were in a life threatening situation.
  • Believed someone close to them was in a life threatening situation.
  • Endured a trauma that lasted a long time, or was extremely severe.
  • Felt helpless during the traumatic event, unable to help one’s self, or a loved one.
  • Experienced an intense reaction during the event (e.g., shaking, crying, vomiting, feeling disconnected from the surroundings).

Our culture can effect PTSD risk as well. Those from backgrounds that tend to openly share and discuss problems may be more willing to seek help soon after going through a trauma, reducing the chance of developing symptoms. Individuals from ethnic groups that are more likely to experience traumas, including Hispanics and African-Americans, are at greater risk for PTSD.

Susceptibility Factors

Other factors that increase susceptibility to PTSD are:

  • Enduring one or more traumas earlier in life.
  • Having other psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, or having a family history of mental health problems.
  • Having a limited support network (e.g., family, friends, professional resources), or having no supports.
  • Experiencing the loss of a loved one (especially if unexpected) or recent stressful life changes (e.g., job change/loss, divorce, illness, moving).
  • Drinking a lot of alcohol.
  • Having a limited education.
  • Being young, and/or female.

Having more than one risk factor for PTSD does not mean an individual will develop the symptoms, while people with no risk factors might. The sooner any individual can open up to a trusted family member, friend, clergy, or professional counselor about a frightening, shocking event, the more likely PTSD symptoms can be avoided, lessened, or more easily managed.

Source: U.S. Dept Veterans Affairs
Photo credit: Lauryn

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