Women More Vulnerable to Traumatic Events
About one-half of all individuals will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime, and around eight percent of survivors will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It is important to self-monitor for symptoms of PTSD, which is often left undiagnosed by health professionals and can have negative impacts on one’s mental and physical health. Women are more vulnerable to adverse experiences such as sexual and physical violence, and are especially at high risk of trauma and developing PTSD as a result.
What is Trauma?
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), a traumatic event involves death, serious injury, or sexual violence, which infers that trauma consists of a threat to one’s health and safety.
What is the Women’s Risk for Experiencing Trauma?
Women are twice as likely as men to develop PTSD from trauma. They are more susceptible to being physically, emotionally, and/or sexually abused. However, while women are at greater risk of experiencing PTSD, many don’t seek out mental health treatment. Lack of treatment for PTSD symptoms can negatively affect mental and physical health.
What Types of Trauma Do Women Typically Experience?
Women are exposed to various types of traumas:
Mistreatment or abuse of their bodies:
Women are most susceptible to trauma related to mistreatment or abuse of their bodies.
Sexual and physical abuse:
It is the most common form of trauma for women. According to the World Health Organization, one in three women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. One in four will experience this type of abuse during childhood.
Most women also face sexual harassment, including public harassment on the streets.
What is the Relationship Between Trauma/Abuse and Mental Health?
Trauma can leave lasting impacts on mental, physical, and emotional health. Those who have experienced trauma are at greater risk of developing:
- Anxiety disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Borderline personality disorder
- Substance abuse
Symptoms of trauma do not always appear right away and can even present months or years after the traumatic event occurred.
What Treatment Exists for Trauma?
Treatment for trauma can be tailored to the unique needs of the victim. Common treatment methods may include psychotherapy and/or medication.
Counselors can help victims manage PTSD symptoms by working through the thoughts and feelings that arise. They may use cognitive behavioral therapy or psychodynamic interventions.
A psychiatrist or doctor may also recommend medication such as antidepressants or anti-anxiety medication to aid in treatment.
Creating a social support group and implementing mindfulness-based practices such as yoga and meditation are also helpful in treating trauma.
Frequently Ask Questions
Trauma symptoms can look different for everyone: some may experience anxiety, trouble sleeping, anger, depression, changes in mood or appetite, and/or abusing alcohol or drugs. Individuals who have PTSD, which is when the individual experienced a traumatic event and struggled to recover psychologically, may have persistent intrusive thoughts, memories, and/or nightmares about the event. They may also avoid places that remind them of the event and feel disconnected from their loved ones.
It is important to seek a medical professional and/or mental health professional if you have experienced abuse or trauma. If you have recently been physically or sexually abused, it is advised to visit the hospital and alert authorities to help document the abuse. Mental health professionals can help victims work through negative thoughts that arise after experiencing trauma to cope and manage PTSD symptoms.
If you are unsure of what first steps to take, you can receive guidance from the following helplines:
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Sexual Assault Hotline
Victims may often feel that they are somehow responsible or to blame for the abuse they have experienced. Abuse or trauma is not your fault, and you are not alone. Talking to trusted friends, family, and/or a mental health professional may help you feel less isolated in your experience.
An abusive relationship occurs when there is physical, emotional, psychological, and/or sexual violence within the relationship. Physical abuse is when the abuser physically harms the victim in the relationship. This can involve grabbing, hitting, punishing, shoving, and/or throwing objects to harm the individual. Sexual abuse can also occur within committed relationships if one partner forces any sexual activity on the other. Nonphysical forms of abuse in emotionally and psychologically harmful relationships can include threats and intimidation, isolation, economic abuse, and using children.
The information on this page, or elsewhere on this site, is not intended to take the place of diagnosis, treatment or informed advice from a qualified mental health professional. You should not take or avoid any action without consultation with the latter.
If you would like to talk to a counselor, please click here.
Abuse, Trauma, and Mental health. (2018, August 28). Office on Women’s Health.
Becker-Phelps, Leslie. (2019, June 2). Seven Signs of an Abusive Relationship. WebMD.
Facts About Women and Trauma. (2017, February). American Psychological Association.
Yee, Stephanie. (2021, February 18). The Trauma of Living as a Woman. Psychology Today.