Women are at a greater risk of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than men, according to new research.
The US-based study investigated 103 people who attended a trauma centre (essentially the equivalent of an A&E department) after an event that met the standard criteria that would put them at risk of developing PTSD, such as injury, violent attack or sexual assault.
The patients were assessed for PTSD symptoms in the emergency department using something known as the PTSD symptom scale, and then assessed again one month and three months after the event.
The study found that at one month, the women were almost 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD than men, and at three months, five times more likely.
Although we have to be cautious in drawing conclusions from such a small study – and the report doesn’t give the numbers who developed PTSD – the findings are striking. If these findings can be replicated, they would suggest that we need to be much more alert to the risk that a woman might develop PTSD, and to do more work to identify and support women with the condition – and if possible, to prevent it arising.
Unfortunately, the bulk of the research on PTSD treatment and prevention is carried out on veterans, most of whom are men. Pharmaceutical companies have in recent years come to realise that new medical drugs that have shown good results with young white men (the group on which they are usually tested) may not work in the same way on women, older people or those from different ethnic groups.
The same may well be true of PTSD: a drug treatment or therapy that achieves good results with men in their 20s returning from a conflict may not work for women who have been on the receiving end of domestic violence or have had a traumatic birth. In the UK alone, there are thousands of women every year who experience PTSD after giving birth.
Evidence on effective treatment for PTSD is already patchy and inconclusive. Not only do we need more research into treatment, we need to end the focus on veterans and extend it to the group most likely to experience the condition: women.