How common is PTSD?

Nia Coppack
Author: Nia Coppack Medical Reviewer: Morgan Blair Last updated:

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can affect individuals who have experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Many people seem to associate PTSD with survivors of war. However, this disorder can develop from any trauma including, but not limited to, natural disasters, abuse, accidents, or violent experiences. [1]

Prevalence of PTSD

There is a 50% – 70% chance that an adult will experience at least one traumatic event in their lifetime. However, experiencing trauma does not necessarily lead to PTSD. Of those that experience or witness a traumatic event, the majority will have some short-term distress that will fade with time, but 20% are likely to develop PTSD symptoms. [2]

Estimates on PTSD prevalence vary widely due to different study designs, populations, cultural factors, health care and more. For example, in the USA approximately 5% of the total population are affected by PTSD, which would be approximately 13 million Americans. [3] The UK estimates 10% of their population is affected. [2]

Adult PTSD sufferers are grouped into three levels of severity, depending on how much of an impact their symptoms have on their daily lives: serious (approximately 36.6% of adult PTSD sufferers), moderate (approximately 33.1% of adult PTSD sufferers) or mild (approximately 30.2% of adult PTSD sufferers). [4]

Differences in PTSD prevalence among age groups and genders

Our responses to trauma and the risk of PTSD changes depending on our age and gender. Every age can experience PTSD, but most studies are focussed on adults rather than adolescents or children. Overall, an estimated 5% of adolescents in the U.S. develop PTSD, while in the UK it is estimated that around 1 in 13 children and young people will develop the condition at some point during their childhood.[4][2] Traumatic experiences in adolescence are more likely to present as a stress response and only become PTSD as their brain develops during early adulthood.

It is hypothesised that the type of trauma may have an impact on the likelihood of PTSD. Women are more likely to be sexually assaulted and men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, or witness injury or death. However, women are more likely to develop PTSD.  Approximately 8% of adult women experience PTSD after a traumatic event whereas only 4% of adult men do. [3]

Further research needs to be done to understand how trauma affects the transgender communities.

In addition, much more research needs to occur to understand how prevalent PTSD is and how gender, race, ethnicity, religion, sexuality and other social factors affect it. [1]

PTSD risk factors

Below are some of the estimated risks for developing PTSD depending on the traumatic event [2]:

  • 49% of rape survivors develop PTSD
  • % of survivors of physical assault develop PTSD
  • 8% of people who were involved in serious accidents or injury develop PTSD
  • 4% of shooting and stabbing survivors develop PTSD
  • 3% of people who experience the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one develop PTSD
  • 4% of parents whose children with life-threatening illnesses develop PTSD
  • 3% of people who witness the murder or serious injury of a third party develop PTSD
  • 8% of survivors of natural disasters develop PTSD

Other risk factors can affect the likelihood of an individual developing PTSD, regardless of the type of trauma they have witnessed or experienced. These include previous exposure to traumatic experiences, a lack of social support following trauma, having to deal with added external stressors such as grief or financial hardship following a traumatic event, and having a history or family history of mental health conditions or substance abuse. [1]

  1. The National Institute of Mental Health. (2020). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
  2. PTSDUK, 2023. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder stats and figures.
  3. 3. National Center for PTSD. (2014).How Common Is PTSD in Adults? – PTSD: National Center for PTSD. U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
  4. National Institute of Mental Health. (2017). NIMH» Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).; National Institute of Mental Health.
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Nia Coppack
Author Nia Coppack Writer

Nia Coppack is a medical writer and mentor with a background in Biochemical Engineering and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Newcastle University.

Published: Sep 25th 2023, Last edited: Oct 13th 2023

Morgan Blair
Medical Reviewer Morgan Blair MA, LPCC

Morgan Blair is a licensed therapist, writer and medical reviewer, holding a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling from Northwestern University.

Content reviewed by a medical professional. Last reviewed: Sep 25th 2023