There is no “typical” demographic profile for a person with PTSD. While military doctors first identified PTSD as “shell shock” or “battle fatigue,” today it is recognized as a disorder that affects people of all ages and from all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds. For example, children who experience physical or sexual abuse, adolescents who witness drive-by shootings and adults who live through natural disasters may be diagnosed with PTSD.
Several recent studies have indicated that exposure to trauma is surprisingly common in the United States. One study notes that significant traumatic events occur for more than half of all persons during the course of their lifetimes. The events most commonly associated with PTSD in women are rape and sexual abuse. In men, the traumatic event most commonly associated with PTSD is combat exposure. Domestic violence is a common precipitant of PTSD, but is arguably not sufficiently recognized as extremely common.
Impairments in personal adjustment, lack of supportive relationships, family history of PTSD, previous traumatic experiences and other existing mental disorders may also play a role in vulnerability to developing PTSD. Additional research is needed, however, to further clarify how different vulnerability and resilience factors interact in the development of PTSD.
As noted earlier, while PTSD is a common disorder, the majority of persons exposed to a traumatic event cope reasonably well. While many may develop symptoms (such as insomnia) for a short time, only a small percentage (less than 10 percent) go on to develop PTSD. Thus PTSD is not simply a “normal response” to an abnormal event; rather it is an anxiety disorder that involves specific kinds of physical and mental changes.