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PTSD statistics 2021

Cropped SingleCare logo By | Updated on January 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by Marissa Walsh, Pharm.D., BCPS-AQ ID

What is PTSD? | How common is PTSD? | U.S. PTSD statistics | PTSD statistics by age | PTSD statistics by trauma | PTSD in veterans | PTSD treatment | Research

Some events can have a significant impact on our lives, such as natural disasters, the death of a loved one, or witnessing an act of violence. After experiencing a frightening or unusual incident, it is commonplace to relive that event in your head and feel anxious or startled for some time after. For those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety can intrude upon their daily lives for months or years after their experience. These PTSD statistics illustrate the common threads that weave these experiences together.

What is PTSD?

PTSD develops in some who have experienced a shocking or dangerous event and have difficulty recovering from the trauma the incident caused. Life-threatening events are risk factors for PTSD. Some examples include military personnel who have experienced violence and terrorist attacks, people who have lived through natural disasters, victims of sexual abuse, and those involved in an accident. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, to reach a diagnosis of PTSD, healthcare providers must confirm that the patient has experienced all of the following for at least one month:

  • One or more re-experiencing symptom (flashbacks, bad dreams, frightening thoughts)
  • One or more avoidance symptom (avoiding places, events, objects, thoughts, or feelings that relate to or could remind someone of the traumatic event)
  • Two or more arousal and reactivity symptoms (feeling startled, tense, restless, angry)
  • Two or more cognition and mood symptoms (misremembering the event, having negative thoughts, feeling guilty, losing interest in enjoyable activities)

PTSD affects the cadence of everyday life. “Trauma shrinks a person’s world,” says Shauna Springer, Ph.D., a psychologist at Hidden Ivy Consulting based in California. “It creates tunnel vision and leaves people in a sustained state of ‘survival mode.’ We are flooded by anxiety and may vacillate between feeling angry and feeling detached from those we love.”

PTSD symptoms in children include bedwetting (after learning how to use the toilet), forgetting how to talk, acting out the traumatic event, or clinging to family members. Teens may present symptoms of PTSD in destructive, disrespectful, or disruptive behaviors.

People with PTSD are also more susceptible to other mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, and sleep problems.

How common is PTSD?

  • Canada has the highest rates of PTSD of 24 countries studied. Nine percent of Canadians will suffer from PTSD in their lifetime. (The British Journal of Psychiatry, 2016)
  • Of people in the United States who experience a traumatic event, 20% will develop PTSD. (Sidran Institute, 2018)
  • 1 in 13 people in the U.S. will develop PTSD at some point in their life. (Sidran Institute, 2018)
  • The amount of mild, moderate, and severe cases are nearly equal, with 36.6% of cases being severe, 33.1% being moderate, and 30.2% being mild. (Harvard Medical School, 2007)

U.S. PTSD statistics

  • About 8 million adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year. (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 2019)
  • PTSD affects more than twice as many women (10%) as men (4%). (U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, 2019)
  • 70% of adults in the U.S. experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. (Sidran Institute, 2018)
  • The lifetime prevalence of PTSD in the U.S. was 6.8% as of 2001-2003. (Harvard Medical School, 2007)

PTSD statistics by age

  • PTSD in adults was highest in 45- to 59-year-olds (5.3%) as of 2001-2003. (Harvard Medical School, 2007)
  • PTSD in adolescents was highest in female adolescents aged 13 to 18 (8%) as of 2001-2004. (Journal of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 2010)
  • PTSD prevalence was lowest in adults aged 60 or older (1%) as of 2001-2003. (Harvard Medical School, 2007)

PTSD statistics by trauma

PTSD is rooted in traumatic events. The following statistics illustrate the percentage of people who will likely develop PTSD after experiencing these traumatic events:

  • Sexual assault: 49%
  • Severe physical assault: 32%
  • Serious accidents: 16.8%
  • Shoot and stabbing victims: 15.4%
  • The unexpected death of a loved one: 14.3%
  • Parents of children with life-threatening illnesses: 10.4%
  • Witnesses of violence: 7.3%
  • Natural disaster victims: 3.8%

(Sidran Institute, 2018)

PTSD in veterans statistics

  • An estimated 354 million adult war survivors globally have PTSD and/or major depression. (European Journal of Psychotraumatology, 2019)
  • In one study of 1,938 veterans, a PTSD prevalence of about 14% was present in veterans who served in Iraq. (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs) 
  • In reports, a 10% prevalence of PTSD has been extrapolated for all Gulf War veterans. (American Journal of Epidemiology, 2003) 
  • About 30% of Vietnam veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime. (American Psychological Association, 1990)

PTSD treatment statistics

Psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two can treat PTSD. There are multiple types of psychotherapies used to treat PTSD; however, trauma-focused psychotherapies with a mental healthcare professional are the most recommended. This type of treatment helps people process their experiences by focusing on the memory of the traumatic event or its meaning.

Studies have demonstrated that up to 46% of people with PTSD show improvement within the first six weeks of psychotherapy. Antidepressants are also a treatment option to alleviate the symptoms of PTSD, including anxiety, with studies showing up to 62% of people receiving medication for PTSD show improvement. (American Family Physician, 2003)

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PTSD research