Some Wounds are Invisible: PTSD in men and women

 

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as “an anxiety disorder that may develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which severe physical harm occurred or was threatened” (Psychology Today, 2015). Symptoms of this disorder include but are not limited to: angry outbursts, flashbacks, and physical distress. If you have been through a traumatic event, you have the risk of developing this disorder. Traumatic experiences may develop in soldiers, rescue workers in disaster, sexual assault victims, witnesses of violent crimes, etc. I will focus on the development of PTSD in female and male sexual assault survivors and how it resonates differently between genders.

Breslau, et al (1999) performed research on sex differences in experience of trauma and development of PTSD. The researchers performed random telephone interviews in which they asked participants to indicate traumatic experiences that they had experienced off a list of nineteen types of trauma. A computer program randomly selected one of the however many traumatic experience the participant listed and they had a re-interview with a clinician and asked about PTSD symptoms after and in response to this response. Results indicated that males had a significantly higher lifetime prevalence of exposure to traumatic events in comparison to females. However, the conditional risk of developing PTSD was two-fold higher in women than in men (Breslau et al, 1999). The researchers indicate that this higher conditional risk in women may be because women have a greater risk of assaultive violence.

Gavranidou & Rosner (2003) offer several reasons for the gender disconnect in lifetime trauma and. development of PTSD symptoms. An argument deriving from a sociological point of view posits that men and women only partly live in the same “world” and have many distinct roles and surroundings that they inhabit. Statistically, a higher number of men are employed in “dangerous” jobs and are in situations of physical aggression thus increasing the probability of a highly stressful traumatic event occurring (Gavranidou & Rosner, 2003). However, females still have a greater risk in developing PTSD. This is partly due to the fact that women are more likely to experience “man-made” trauma such as rape and childhood sexual abuse. While this type of trauma may provide developmental deficits (e.g. childhood trauma) and negative effects on personality while the trauma men primarily experience are not as deeply connected to personality and self esteem (Gavranidou & Rosner, 2003). In addition, women are more likely to lack resources to pick themselves up and cope effectively with the situation. The authors cite the definition Hoboll (1989) gives for resources; “those objects, personal characteristics, conditions or energies that are valued by the individual or that serve as a means for attainment of these objects, personal characteristics, conditions, or energies” (as cited in Gavranidou & Rosner, 2003). Time, money, education, etc. are relevant in helpful in recovering from a traumatic event, at least logistically, and by their overall lacking in resources, women are at even further risk for developing PTSD symptoms.

Resources available following sexual assault, to get aid in the after-effects and any other stress related disorders, have been mainly available to women. In 1994, the Sexual Offenses Act legally recognized the rape of a man through anal penetration. Rogers (1997) notes that there is evidence of post sexual assault PTSD in men but the prevalence and any other sort of case studies are lacking, particularly in the U.K. This article is dated, however, finding resources for anxiety disorders following male sexual assault is still very difficult. I postulate that law enforcement not taking male rape cases seriously and the stigma behind male rape victims losing masculinity through this trauma, would make PTSD rates soar high. That is a significant issue that I feel more research and aid should be funneled into.

Overall, there are clear differences in how men and women respond to trauma. This is directly related to what type of trauma they experience primarily as well as each gender’s primary coping skills. In my opinion, more research needs to be done in finding effective treatments for PTSD related to sexual assault. I consider the dogs that veterans can get to help with flashbacks of combat and wonder if that could also be useful for victims of other trauma such as sexual assault or witnessing violent crime. I believe animals can be very helpful in the healing process and hope they are further utilized in anxiety disorders, most notably PTSD.

 

Sources

Breslau, N. , Chilcoat, H.D. , Kessler, R.C. , Peterson, E.L. & Lucia, V.C. (1999).Vulnerability to assaultive violence: further specification of the sex difference in post-traumatic stress disorder. Psychological Medicine, 29 (813-821). Retrieved from http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FPSM%2FPSM29_04%2FS003321799008612a.pdf&code=887230e858a41179a22b52fd9ff5084a

 

Gavranidou, Maria & Rosner, Rita. (2013). The weaker sex? Gender and post-traumatic stress disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 17 (130-139). Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/da.10103/epdf

 

“Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder”. (Nov. 18, 2015). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder

 

Rogers, Paul. (1997). Post-traumatic stress disorder following male rape. Journal of Mental Health, 6 (1).

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