Experts warn more women than men are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). 10 out of every 100 women are affected by the condition compared to four out of every 100 men, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD.
A traumatic, frightening and dangerous event - sexual assault, gun violence, accidents, natural disasters - from the past can trigger PTSD and symptoms of the condition can last for many years if it is not treated. “It is an issue for girls and women across their life span,” Janine Clayton, director of the office of research on women’s health at the National Institutes of Health, told a news portal.
Clayton further explained:“Women and men experience different types of trauma and at different times in their lives. Men experience violence-related traumas, often at an older age, while women are likely to experience sexual assaults and sexual abuse at a younger age, when the brain is developing, and they are at increased risk for PTSD later in life." Adding, “The timing is different, the nature of the trauma can be different, and how the brain responds can be different. It’s normal to feel symptoms, but it’s not normal for them to persist.”
Researchers are still trying to understand why women are more prone to PTSD than men. The type of trauma women experience may be one reason why, according to Karestan Koenen who is a professor of psychiatric epidemiology at Chan. “If we see differences with PTSD vs. those without PTSD, that might point us to important biological clues,” Koenen told a news portal. Adding, “If we can better understand the biology of the disorder, it could lead to new treatments.”
Factors like brain stress responses, genetics, and hormones could also have an impact. “We know very little about the female brain,” Miranda Olff, a psychiatrist with the ARQ National Psychotrauma Center in the Netherland, told a news portal. Adding “There is no male or female brain. But there is some evidence of increased activity of brain regions that have to do with, for instance, emotional processing. Women respond more strongly with their stress hormone system relative to men, while men show higher levels of hyperarousal symptoms, like anger or aggression.”
Farris Tuma, director of the traumatic stress research program at the National Institute of Mental Health, agrees with Olff. “Under stress, men and women interpret what they see differently,” Tuma told a news portal. Adding, “Specifically, how our brains process emotions is different. Women show enhanced connectivity or coordination in the emotion processing parts of the brain, and this is reduced in men under stress. The implication of this is that women may be more efficient in incorporating the trauma, and linking that experience with very strong fearful, terrifying emotions — making it harder to recover.”
Cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure (PE) are the two main treatment for PTSD. PE helps patients tackle painful memories, which can help treat feelings of self-blame and shame. “I had a patient who was raped by a boyfriend and his friends,” Edna Foa, a professor of clinical psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, told a news portal. Adding, “She wouldn’t let herself think about what happened. By revisiting the memory, she discovered she fought them like a lioness. She realized it wasn’t her fault, and her sense of guilt and shame went down.”
Experts urge people suffering from PTSD to seek help and not bury their emotions. “It’s important to understand that this is not about a moral failing or character,” Clayton told a news portal. Adding, “PTSD is an illness. If you had a broken leg, you’d put a cast on it. You don’t need to be strong and walk on. This is something that can and needs to be treated.”
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