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PTSD survey

A third of survey takers reported having post-traumatic stress disorder or having a loved one with PTSD

One in 13 Americans will develop PTSD at some point in their lifetime. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) develops in approximately 20% of people who experience a traumatic event. Examples of traumatic events include witnessing or experiencing physical assault, sexual assault, terrorist attacks, serious accidents, unexpected death of a family member, and natural disasters. For PTSD Awareness Day, SingleCare conducted a PTSD survey of 2,000 adults to learn more about the prevalence of PTSD, its symptoms, treatments, and how the COVID-19 pandemic affected people living with PTSD.

Key findings:

RELATED: See more PTSD statistics

PTSD has personally affected 42% of respondents or someone they know

It’s inevitable that nearly everyone will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime but not everyone develops lasting PTSD symptoms. About 8 million American adults have PTSD during any given year, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, so it’s not surprising that 42% of SingleCare’s PTSD survey respondents reported that PTSD has personally affected them or someone they know.

  • 42% reported PTSD has personally affected them or someone they know
  • 58% reported PTSD has not personally affected them or anyone they know

Additionally, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that PTSD affects twice as many women as men. Our survey showed that females were more commonly impacted by PTSD than males.

Have you or someone you know been personally impacted by PTSD?

Female Male
Yes 48% 35%
No 52% 65%

33% of respondents or their loved ones have had PTSD

Like other health conditions, especially mental health problems, not everyone will seek or meet the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD. Of those who reported having PTSD or having a loved one with PTSD, only 58% of them were actually diagnosed with PTSD.

  • 19% reported they or a loved one has been diagnosed with PTSD
  • 14% reported they or a loved one has experienced PTSD but not been clinically diagnosed
  • 67% reported neither they nor a loved one has had PTSD

Diagnosing PTSD can be difficult. Not only is the diagnosis criteria extensive, but PTSD often co-occurs with and therefore may be masked by other mental health conditions such as anxiety disorders, depression, or substance abuse. Additionally, patients may be unwilling to talk about the event or they may not connect their current symptoms with the traumatic event, especially if the event happened months or even years prior to the appearance symptoms.

44% reported the COVID-19 pandemic affected their PTSD

PTSD statistics could be on the rise after a year of the coronavirus pandemic. There are many elements of the pandemic that can cause or worsen PTSD. Living in isolation, witnessing or experiencing medical events and procedures, and exposure to medical events and death as a healthcare worker or emergency worker are risk factors for developing or worsening PTSD. Of the respondents who have PTSD or have a loved one with PTSD:

  • 29% reported living in isolation, social distancing, and/or stay-at-home orders affected their PTSD
  • 24% reported the fear of getting COVID-19 affected their PTSD
  • 11% reported contracting COVID-19 affected their PTSD
  • 10% reported unknown*
  • 7% reported caring for loved ones with COVID-19 affected their PTSD
  • 6% reported being a healthcare worker affected their PTSD
  • 3% reported being an emergency worker affected their PTSD
  • 3% reported other reasons why the COVID-19 pandemic affected their PTSD
  • 46% reported none of the above—the pandemic did not affect their PTSD

* Unknown was included as an answer choice for survey takers responding on behalf of a loved one with PTSD.

With or without a public health emergency, healthcare workers may be at a higher risk of PTSD. Of the healthcare workers that took our PTSD survey, 54% reported that they or someone they know has been personally affected by PTSD.

41% of reported PTSD events occurred in childhood or adolescence

The majority (73%) of the respondents who have PTSD or have a loved one with PTSD reported that the traumatic event that caused their PTSD happened before the age of 30 years old.

  • Childhood (0-12 years old): 26%
  • Adolescence (13-17 years old): 15%
  • Early adulthood (18-29 years old): 32%
  • Adulthood (30-59 years old): 21%
  • Late adulthood (60+ years old): 2%
  • Unknown*: 4%

Chart illustrating most PTSD events happen at a young age

55% don’t know that PTSD symptoms can appear anytime after the traumatic event

Symptoms of PTSD typically appear within three months of the traumatic event, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), but sometimes it takes years for symptoms to present. Of all 2,000 survey respondents:

  • 15% believe PTSD symptoms appear immediately after the event
  • 15% believe PTSD symptoms appear within months of the event
  • 4% believe PTSD symptoms appear within a year of the event
  • 45% believe PTSD symptoms can appear anytime after the event
  • 21% don’t know how long it takes for PTSD symptoms to appear

More than half of respondents with PTSD reported all four categories of PTSD symptoms

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) outlines four categories of PTSD symptoms.

  1. Re-experiencing symptoms: Intrusive thoughts, dreams, or flashbacks related to reliving the trauma.
  2. Avoidance: Actively avoiding any thoughts, places, or potential triggers related to the trauma.
  3. Cognitive symptoms: Trouble remembering the trauma, unusual or illogical thoughts related to why the trauma happened
  4. Arousal symptoms: Difficulty sleeping or concentrating, being easily startled

Of the respondents who reported having PTSD or having a loved one with PTSD, more than half of them reported all four categories of symptoms:

  • 69% reported re-experiencing symptoms
  • 59% reported avoidance symptoms
  • 58% reported cognitive symptoms, such as negative thoughts or mood
  • 52% reported arousal symptoms
  • 26% reported other symptoms
  • 6% reported unknown*
  • <1% reported no PTSD symptoms

Nearly half of these respondents reported that the traumatic event happened between the ages of 0 and 17. It’s important for parents and caregivers to know that PTSD symptoms can present differently in children and teenagers. Bedwetting, forgetting or being unable to talk, and acting out the traumatic event during playtime are some examples of how a child may react to trauma. Adolescents with PTSD may become disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive.

Chart illustrating that half of people with PTSD experience all four types of symptoms

59% experience moderate PTSD symptoms; 20% have severe symptoms

To be considered PTSD, symptoms must be severe enough to interfere with work and/or relationships and symptoms must last more than a month. Of the survey respondents who have PTSD or have a loved one with PTSD and have experienced PTSD symptoms, most cases are reportedly moderate:

  • Mild: 18%
  • Moderate: 59%
  • Severe: 20%
  • Unknown*: 3%

Chart illustrating that most people with PTSD experience moderate symptoms

55% reported PTSD symptoms lasting five or more years

PTSD symptoms can persist for months or even years. Sometimes symptoms occur regularly, for others they come and go. According to our survey, only 13% of respondents with PTSD reported that symptoms lasted less than a year. An additional 14% reported that symptoms lasted one to four years. However, PTSD symptoms most commonly lasted five or more years.

  • Less than one month: 1%
  • 1 month: 2%
  • 2 months: 1%
  • 3 months: 2%
  • 4 months: 1%
  • 5 months: 1%
  • 6 months: 3%
  • 7-11 months: 2%
  • 1 year: 4%
  • 2 years: 5%
  • 3 years: 3%
  • 4 years: 2%
  • 5 or more years: 55%
  • Unknown*: 18%

Chart illustrating that PTSD symptoms typically last five or more years

26% don’t know if PTSD is treatable; 11% don’t think it is

The American Psychiatric Association reports that PTSD is treatable. Of all 2,000 survey takers:

  • 63% believe PTSD is treatable
  • 11% don’t believe PTSD is treatable
  • 26% don’t know if PTSD is treatable

18% did not seek PTSD treatment

Of the respondents who reported having PTSD or having a loved one with PTSD, nearly 1 in 5 respondents did not seek treatment. Of those who did receive treatment, psychotherapy and antidepressants were the most common PTSD treatment options.

  • 49% have tried psychotherapy or “talk therapy”
  • 41% have tried antidepressants
  • 33% have tried other coping strategies
  • 24% have taken medication for specific PTSD symptoms (such as sleep aids for insomnia)
  • 23% have tried cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • 18% did not seek treatment for PTSD
  • 16% have tried alternative treatments (such as yoga, acupuncture, massage therapy)
  • 8% have tried cognitive restructuring
  • 8% have tried exposure therapy
  • 7% have tried eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)
  • 7% reported unknown*
  • 4% have tried virtual reality exposure
  • 3% have tried other PTSD treatments
  • 3% have tried MDMA-assisted therapy

Only 8% of those who sought PTSD treatment reported it was not effective

Early intervention is important and cognitive behavioral therapy is considered very effective, according to the American Psychiatric Association. For our survey takers, PTSD treatment was effective to some degree for 83% of respondents with PTSD or those with a loved one with PTSD:

  • Very effective: 13%
  • Somewhat effective: 49%
  • Barely effective: 21%
  • Not effective at all: 8%
  • Unknown*: 9%

PTSD appears to be more difficult to effectively treat in more severe cases. The majority of respondents who reported that PTSD treatment was somewhat effective also reported moderate PTSD symptoms (67%). The majority of those who reported that treatment was barely effective (32%) or not effective at all (48%) also reported severe PTSD symptoms.

Chart illustrating that PTSD treatment was not effective for only 8% of people

PTSD resources

There are many resources available to people with PTSD. Here are a few organizations that can help:

Our methodology

SingleCare conducted this PTSD survey online through AYTM on Jun. 5, 2021. This survey includes 2,000 United States adults ages 18+. Age and gender were census-balanced to match the U.S. population in age, gender, and U.S. region.