PTSD Facts & Statistics: How Common Is It?
Last Updated: November 6, 2023
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is more prevalent than most people might initially realize. When PTSD is untreated, it can lead to other complications, including a greater risk of a substance use disorder.
Article at a Glance
- Post-traumatic stress disorder develops after exposure to a traumatic event that is more severe than what would be seen as a typical day-to-day stressor.
- Someone who experiences PTSD may have thoughts and memories of the event that interfere with their daily life.
- An estimated 6 out of 100 people in the U.S. will have PTSD at some point.
- In 2020, an estimated 13 million Americans had PTSD.
- Treatment for PTSD, which includes psychotherapy, medication and specialized programs, can be very effective.
What Is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after someone experiences or witnesses something terrifying or life-threatening. While it’s normal to have a sense of anxiety immediately following a traumatic event, with PTSD, the symptoms persist a month or more after the triggering event. Examples of situations that can trigger PTSD include natural disasters, abuse, sexual assault, war, or a severe accident.
For some people, the signs of PTSD might appear soon after the triggering event and continue. For others, it can take months or even years for signs and especially more severe symptoms to occur. The seriousness of the trauma often directly relates to PTSD development and symptoms. For a diagnosis of PTSD, symptoms have to last longer than a month and be severe enough that they’re interfering with relationships, school, or work.
Facts at a Glance
No single study asks every person in the country about PTSD, so it’s challenging to know the exact number of people affected. Many more people likely struggle with PTSD than researchers even realize.
Most people will experience at least one traumatic situation in their lives. Many of the risk factors are out of our control.
Consider the PTSD facts below:
- Men and women experience different types of trauma. For women, sexual assault is more likely to lead to PTSD, while for men, combat, witnessing death or injuries, or a physical assault are the most common contributors.
- Trauma can occur when circumstances overwhelm people, leading them to respond with extreme fear or helplessness.
- Seventy percent of U.S. adults have experienced at least one traumatic event, which is around 223 million people.
- Almost all children who witness sexual assault or parental homicide develop PTSD.
- More than 90% of clients have experienced trauma in public behavioral health settings.
Prevalence of PTSD
While it’s common to experience trauma at least once, most people don’t develop PTSD after a traumatic event.
The following statistics provide more details about the prevalence of PTSD:
- Six out of every 100 people are estimated to have PTSD at some point. That’s around 6% of the U.S. population.
- Five percent or 5 out of every 100 adults in the U.S. develop PTSD in any given year.
- Around 8% of women will have PTSD at some point—it’s more common in women than men.
- Four percent of men will have PTSD at some point.
- Veterans are more likely to have PTSD compared to civilians, and the risk is even higher in veterans deployed to combat zones.
PTSD in Adults
Symptoms of PTSD usually start within three months of a traumatic event but can take longer to appear. The symptoms must have persisted for more than a month and be severe enough to interfere with functionality in daily life for a diagnosis to be made. Some people will recover within six months of the appearance of PTSD symptoms, but for others, symptoms can last a year or more.
For a diagnosis, an adult should have all of the following symptoms for a minimum of a month:
- At least one symptom related to re-experiencing a traumatic event, such as flashbacks or physical symptoms. Distressing thoughts or recurring memories are also included in this category.
- One avoidance symptom, such as staying away from people, places or things that remind you of an experience.
- At least two symptoms related to arousal and reactivity, like being startled easily, feeling tense or on edge or having angry outbursts.
- Two cognition and mood symptoms must be present, like trouble remembering the traumatic event’s details, negative thoughts about yourself or the world or feelings of social isolation.
PTSD Among Adolescents
Adolescents aged 13-18 have a 5% lifetime prevalence of PTSD. Of those adolescents, 1.5% will have severe impairment, with females being more likely to be affected again. Among adolescents, 8% of females and 2.3% of males will experience PTSD.
- Thirty-five percent of young people in urban environments exposed to community violence develop PTSD.
- Seventy-seven percent of children exposed to a school shooting develop post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Of sexually abused children, 90% will develop PTSD.
PTSD in Women vs. Men
Around half of all women in the United States are exposed to at least one traumatic situation in their lifetime. Women are less likely overall to experience traumatic events than men. However, they are more likely to be victims of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault than men. Almost 1 in 5 U.S. women have been raped in their lifetimes.
Women experience PTSD at two to three times the rate men do in the U.S. The gender differences are likely related to the higher likelihood of a woman experiencing sexual assault, as it is one of the most significant PTSD risk factors. It’s also possible that women are more likely to develop PTSD because of the greater risk of experiencing trauma within relationships or dealing with chronic trauma more often than men.
It’s also theorized that women’s social roles as they relate to their gender could impact the experience of trauma. For example, women might feel additional stress or failure if they have PTSD, which interferes with their role as a mother, caretaker, or wife.
PTSD and Domestic Violence
Domestic violence can be a major risk factor for developing PTSD. It’s also more likely to lead to complex PTSD because it tends to be chronic or ongoing. One in four women and one in nine men will experience severe physical violence from an intimate partner. One in three women has experienced intimate partner physical violence.
When someone experiences abuse, they are likely to go through a wide variety of physical and mental symptoms. Fear stemming from domestic violence often isn’t addressed for a long time because the abuser may live in close quarters with the victim. Risk factors for PTSD in domestic violence victims include feelings of helplessness, sustaining a physical injury, having a history of mental illness and lacking a supportive network or community.
PTSD in Veterans
The rates of PTSD are higher in veterans than civilians. Around 7% of veterans will have PTSD at some point, compared to 6% of adults in the general population. Female veterans are also more likely than male veterans to develop the disorder. Thirteen percent of females versus 6% of male veterans will experience PTSD.
Veteran PTSD rates vary depending on service eras:
- Twenty-nine percent of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom veterans will have PTSD at some point. Of those veterans, 15% had PTSD in the past year.
- For the Persian Gulf War, 21% of veterans will experience PTSD at some point, and 14% report having symptoms in the past year.
- Ten percent of Vietnam War veterans report PTSD in their lives.
- Among World War II and Korean War veterans, 3% had PTSD at some point.
- Deployment significantly increases the risk—it’s three times more likely for a deployed veteran to develop PTSD than one who didn’t, even from the same era of service.
- Among veterans who use VA health care, 23% had PTSD at some point.
- Military sexual trauma, or MST, may be one of the primary reasons women veterans have higher PTSD rates than men. Around 1 in 3 women veterans report MST when screened by a VA healthcare provider.
PTSD and Co-Occurring Conditions
It’s common for PTSD to occur along with other mental health conditions.
Depression is characterized by a low mood and feelings of sadness, and it can develop after experiencing trauma. In an extensive national survey, depression was 3-5 times more likely in people with PTSD than without. Many of the symptoms between the two conditions overlap with one another as well.
Going through a traumatic experience can raise a person’s risk of suicide. For example, sexual trauma and childhood abuse are linked heavily to PTSD and an increased suicide risk. Among veterans, the most significant link to suicide attempts and suicidal thoughts is combat-related guilt. Other studies link suicide risks with specific coping strategies. For example, someone who has difficulty expressing their feelings may be at greater risk of developing PTSD and also experiencing suicidal thoughts.
Anxiety and PTSD can overlap. Sometimes, PTSD symptoms, such as intense fear and easily startling, can appear similar to symptoms of an anxiety disorder. In other cases, PTSD may co-occur with a specific anxiety disorder, such as agoraphobia or separation anxiety.
Substance Use Disorders
PTSD frequently co-occurs with substance use disorders. There are complex relationships between the two. For some people, the use of substances can be a way to cope with traumatic experiences, ultimately leading to misuse and addiction. For other people, there could be a co-occurrence between SUD and PTSD because they affect similar parts of the brain. Someone with PTSD is 2-4 times more likely to meet the criteria for an SUD.
The prognosis for PTSD has improved in the past decade as better long-term treatment options have become available.
In people with PTSD who sought treatment, symptoms lasted 36 months on average. For those not seeking treatment, the symptoms lasted 64 months on average. Around one-third of people seeking treatment don’t experience complete remission, but they experience a major reduction in symptom intensity.
The prognosis for PTSD can be improved with social support, promptly engaging in treatment, and avoiding re-traumatization. Also, improving the prognosis is having a high functionality level before the traumatic event and not having other mental health disorders.
Statistics on PTSD Treatment and Outlook
The prognosis or outlook for a PTSD diagnosis can vary depending on many factors, but treatment is beneficial for most. In one study, as many as 46% of people with PTSD showed improvements within six weeks of starting psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy. As many as 62% of people receiving PTSD medications show improvement.
Get Professional Support for PTSD at The Recovery Village Kansas City
The Recovery Village Kansas City offers expert-led, trauma-informed mental health counseling and treatment. As part of our dual diagnosis programs, this is available for people with co-occurring substance use disorders. We also offer PTSD treatment as a standalone mental health service without treatment for an accompanying addiction. We encourage you to learn more about our PTSD treatment programs. We can work with veteran populations and people who’ve experienced other types of trauma, like complex PTSD.
Reach out today. Our recovery advocates are ready to discuss our service offerings or help you begin the admissions process.
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