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Who Has the Most Risk Factors for PTSD? The Answers May Surprise You

Sep 09, 2022

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Who Has the Most Risk Factors for PTSD? The Answers May Surprise You

If you’re like most people, you probably associate PTSD with veterans. But people with military experience aren’t the only ones who get trauma-associated disorders. Other people are at risk too, and the reasons may surprise you. Let’s talk about who has the most risk factors for PTSD. 

 

PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It’s when a traumatic event makes a salient imprint on a person’s memory. This causes them to have flashbacks, which may disrupt their daily life. 

 

They may feel like they need to be “on guard” all the time, because their trauma makes them feel more vulnerable. They may be more irritable, or have trouble sleeping. These are all signs that a person’s trauma is continuing to affect them. 

 

Traumatic events happen all the time. In 2017, the World Mental Health Survey found that over 70% of responders had gone through trauma. Despite (and sometimes because of) technological advances, life can be scary. Getting into a car wreck, an accident at work, or a confrontation with another person are all traumatic scenarios.

 

Yet most people work through these traumas without developing PTSD. The symptoms are exhausting and debilitating for people that end up developing it. The National Center for PTSD reports that about 6% of Americans will experience PTSD in their lifetimes. Yet 60% of men and 50% of women have traumatic experiences. What risk factors are causing some people to develop PTSD while others dont?

 

At KarmaDocs and KarmaTMS, we specialize in PTSD treatment. Many of our patients come to us needing a diagnosis after a traumatic event in their lives. Others have been living with their PTSD for years, and worry that they’ve exhausted all their treatment options. Wherever you are in your mental health journey, we’re here to support you. 

 

Learning about your risk factors can help you understand your mental health. With deeper knowledge, you can make the best decision for your future. 

 

But if trauma is so common, why doesn’t everyone have PTSD? What makes some people develop PTSD after an experience, while others don’t? Let’s talk about who is most at risk of developing PTSD.  

Who Has the Most Risk Factors for PTSD?

People who are more at risk for PTSD fall into two broad categories. These are:

 

  • People who are more at risk of experiencing trauma
  • People who are more at risk for developing PTSD after trauma 

 

The distinction between these two groups is important. Certain lifestyles and jobs predispose people to traumatic situations. This makes PTSD more likely. Take firefighters, police, healthcare workers, and military personnel as examples. They are often in scenarios that are frightening or disturbing. Because of their jobs, these people are at higher risk of having trauma and may develop PTSD because of it. 

 

But not everyone who experiences a traumatic situation develops PTSD. Most military workers don’t develop it. Although rates of PTSD are high among those who have served. This means that PTSD isn’t just a product of trauma; it’s a combination of our experience and our bodies’ interpretation of that trauma. Certain people are more predisposed to PTSD than their peers.  

 

Let’s break down these groups further so we can be more clear about who carries the most PTSD risk. 

Who is More at Risk for Experiencing Trauma?

Certain groups lead more traumatic lives. This may be because of their occupation. They may work long hours in high-stress environments. Or they may frequently be put into dangerous situations. 

 

Check out these jobs that expose people to the most trauma:

 

  • Military Workers
  • Healthcare Workers
  • Police Officers
  • Firefighters
  • Emergency Medicine Responders(like EMTs or Paramedics)
  • Disaster Responders

 

Some people are exposed to trauma because of factors that are out of their control. Unlike occupational trauma, these people may be more likely to experience violence or abuse in their lives outside of work. They may have less financial control over their future, so they end up in dangerous situations. 

 

People who lack resources and control are also at risk of experiencing trauma. Here are some examples: 

 

  • Children who go through the foster care system
  • Hispanic and Non-Hispanic Black youth
  • People who are struggling socioeconomically5
  • LGBTQ youth

 

Still, many of these people don’t develop PTSD after trauma. They may go through trauma, but be able to process it in a way that doesn’t have lasting effects on their mental health. Others will develop PTSD after the same situation, and suffer because of it. But of people who go through traumatic events, who is more at risk of developing PTSD? Let’s talk about it.

Who is At Risk for Developing PTSD after Trauma?

Research has found that specific factors may make certain people more predisposed to PTSD than others. Check out these risk factors:

 

  • Specific types of trauma may put a person at increased risk. Interpersonal trauma, or a confrontation with another person, is more associated with PTSD than other types of trauma.1 

 

  • People who use substances. Research has shown that teenagers who use substances are more likely to experience trauma and develop PTSD. This goes both ways, meaning that young people with PTSD are also more likely to use substances. 

 

  • Previous PTSD history. People who have developed PTSD after a different traumatic event are more at risk for getting PTSD after a new trauma. 

 

  • Mental Health history. Prior psychiatric diagnoses increase a person’s risk. Especially mood and anxiety disorders, and conduct disorders. 

 

  • Certain personality traits. Neuroticism means being predisposed to anxiety, anger, emotional instability, and depression. Being more neurotic may increase the risk for PTSD. Avoidance coping is when a person changes their behaviors to avoid dealing with a feeling or experience, and it also increases risk. 

 

  • Lack of social support. Isolation increases risk for PTSD. Some researchers believe this is the most significant risk factor after a traumatic experience and genetic vulnerability.  

 

  • People who can’t get enough sleep. A person’s ability to fall asleep and stay asleep is linked to the ability to regulate stress. Some research has shown that the ability to sleep well can help someone account for other risk factors. Getting more sleep could decrease your risk for trauma-related illness.5

 

When you combine risks related to trauma, and those linked to PTSD, a more clear picture appears. People who have the greatest risk are at a cross between these two categories. 

 

We’re also starting to learn about genetic risk factors for PTSD. There’s growing research that shows that PTSD tends to run in generations of families. The reasons for this could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Check back on our future articles for more on this fascinating and tragic phenomenon. 

Can You Decrease Your Risk Factors for PTSD?

Yes. There are some things you can do that could boost your resiliency after trauma. 

 

  • Seek help and support. Speak with family and friends about how you’re feeling. Use your community support networks, or look for new ones if you don’t have them. Join a support group where you can express your trauma around people with similar experiences.

 

  • Try to get good sleep. Sometimes this is hard. People who are dealing with trauma often have difficulty sleeping because their brains are alert for danger. Putting pressure on yourself to fall asleep despite tossing and turning isn’t helpful either.5 

 

  • Affirm yourself. Many people with PTSD struggle with negative self-talk around their traumatic life event. Maybe they wish they had done something different. Learning to feel okay with your actions – and accepting the event as it happened – can help you recover from trauma. We know this is easier said than done. 

 

  • Get Help. Don’t be afraid to speak with a mental health professional. Sometimes, people need psychiatric medications to help them get through an acute episode of PTSD. Even if you’re not sure whether you have PTSD, getting therapy after trauma can help you work through the event. 

Treatment for PTSD

If you’re worried about your risk factors for PTSD, help is out there. Speaking about your trauma can feel so scary. The clinical mental health experts at KarmaDocs and KarmaTMS are here to support you in whatever way you need. We help patients with PTSD get their lives back.  We use supportive therapy, medication management, and TMS therapy for treatment-resistant PTSD. Contact our staff for more information, or book an appointment on our home page. 

 

Resources: 

1)Kessler RC, Aguilar-Gaxiola S, Alonso J, Benjet C, Bromet EJ, Cardoso G, Degenhardt L, de Girolamo G, Dinolova RV, Ferry F, Florescu S, Gureje O, Haro JM, Huang Y, Karam EG, Kawakami N, Lee S,Lepine JP, Levinson D, Navarro-Mateu F, Pennell BE, Piazza M, Posada-Villa J, Scott KM, Stein DJ, Ten Have M, Torres Y, Viana MC, Petukhova MV, Sampson NA, Zaslavsky AM, Koenen KC. Trauma and PTSD in the WHO World Mental Health Surveys. Eur J Psychotraumatol. 2017 Oct 27;8(sup5):1353383. doi: 10.1080/20008198.2017.1353383. PMID: 29075426; PMCID: PMC5632781.

2)Va.gov: Veterans Affairs. How Common is PTSD in Adults? (2018, September 13). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/understand/common/common_adults.asp

3)Lee, W., Lee, Y.-R., Yoon, J.-H., Lee, H.-J., & Kang, M.-Y. (2020). Occupational post-traumatic stress disorder: An updated systematic review. BMC Public Health, 20(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12889-020-08903-2

4)Trauma & Children in foster care: A comprehensive overview. Concordia St. Paul. (2021, March 12). Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.csp.edu/publication/trauma-children-in-foster-care-a-comprehensive-overview/

5)Fusco RA, Yuan Y, Lee H, Newhill CE. Trauma, Sleep and Mental Health Problems in Low-Income Young Adults. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2021 Jan 28;18(3):1145. doi: 10.3390/ijerph18031145. PMID: 33525425; PMCID: PMC7908203.

6)McCormick, A., Scheyd, K., & Terrazas, S. (2018). Trauma-informed care and LGBTQ youth: Considerations for advancing practice with youth with trauma experiences. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 99(2), 160–169. https://doi.org/10.1177/1044389418768550

7)Khoury L, Tang YL, Bradley B, Cubells JF, Ressler KJ. Substance use, childhood traumatic experience, and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in an urban civilian population. Depress Anxiety. 2010 Dec;27(12):1077-86. doi: 10.1002/da.20751. PMID: 21049532; PMCID: PMC3051362.

8)LR;, B. N. P. E. L. S. (n.d.). A second look at prior trauma and the posttraumatic stress disorder effects of subsequent trauma: A prospective epidemiological study. Archives of general psychiatry. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18391131/

9)Sareen J. Posttraumatic stress disorder in adults: impact, comorbidity, risk factors, and treatment. Can J Psychiatry. 2014 Sep;59(9):460-7. doi: 10.1177/070674371405900902. PMID: 25565692; PMCID: PMC4168808.

10) Vlachos II, Papageorgiou C, Margariti M. Neurobiological Trajectories Involving Social Isolation in PTSD: A Systematic Review. Brain Sci. 2020 Mar 18;10(3):173. doi: 10.3390/brainsci10030173. PMID: 32197333; PMCID: PMC7139956.

11)Roberts AL, Galea S, Austin SB, Cerda M, Wright RJ, Rich-Edwards JW, Koenen KC. Posttraumatic stress disorder across two generations: concordance and mechanisms in a population-based sample. Biol Psychiatry. 2012 Sep 15;72(6):505-11. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2012.03.020. Epub 2012 Apr 21. PMID: 22521146; PMCID: PMC3412195.

12)U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (n.d.). Post-traumatic stress disorder. National Institute of Mental Health. Retrieved August 12, 2022, from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd

 

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