Assaults Take Greater Psychological Toll on Women
To eliminate the possibility that women are more likely to be
sexually assaulted than men and that sexual assault may have more serious
effects than other kinds of assault, the researchers excluded data from those
people who were sexually assaulted. Women were found to be at increased risk
for post-traumatic stress disorder following an assault that was not sexual,
but were not at increased risk for post-traumatic stress disorder if the trauma
did not involve assault of any nature.
Naomi Breslau, PhD, who has also investigated gender
differences in post-traumatic stress disorder, came to a similar conclusion.
"This finding is very important, although it needs [to be repeated]. ... It
looks like women are more vulnerable than men to develop PTSD following certain
types of events that involve intentional or 'assaultive' violence ... but they
may not have a greater vulnerability to PTSD if they are exposed to a disaster
or accident." Breslau is affiliated with the department of psychiatry of
the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
Thus, says Breslau, one cannot say that women are simply
psychologically weaker than men in handling trauma. Rather, post-traumatic
stress disorder might be more likely to develop when a victim is personally
threatened by the inequality in strength between the victim and an attacker who
is physically stronger.
Breslau also says that the propensity to develop post-traumatic
stress disorder might really be a consequence of pre-existing mental health
problems, like anxiety or depression. She says that few people have only
post-traumatic stress disorder. "So far, I've come to the conclusion that
people who get this disorder are at risk for other reasons -- not particularly
that [experiencing] the event is all-powerful or the ultimate explanation of
The adverse consequences of post-traumatic stress disorder can
range from relatively mild or moderate symptoms that a person can live with in
his or her everyday life to symptoms that are completely incapacitating,
"The bad news is that women are more likely to develop PTSD
than men. The good news is that we have good treatments for PTSD and they are
getting better all the time," Friedman says. He cites the availability of
counseling therapies and the recent approval of an antidepressant called Zoloft
(sertraline) for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder include recurring nightmares or
reminders of the event, becoming emotionally numb, sleep problems, inability to
focus intellectually, feeling anxious or jumpy, and frequently looking over
- A recent survey found that most people were exposed to a serious traumatic
event in their lifetime and that post-traumatic stress disorder was a
relatively rare outcome, although it affected four times as many women as
- The propensity to develop post-traumatic stress disorder may reflect
pre-existing medical conditions, such as anxiety or depression, but there are
treatments for the disorder, including counseling and medication.