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What Are the Risk Factors for PTSD?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a type of mental health issue that generally appears following a traumatic event. The type of traumatic event, and how the victim is treated following the trauma, may have a significant impact on the likelihood of PTSD. Other risk factors for PTSD include the severity and risk to life involved in the trauma and the past mental history of the victim and his or her relatives.

Some types of traumatic events may be more likely to trigger post-traumatic stress disorder. The experience of war-level combat is frequently associated with an increased risk of this condition. Sexual abuse, rape, and molestation are also common triggers for a manifestation of PTSD. Other types of trauma that may be considered risk factors for PTSD include being physically injured or threatened with a weapon, or experiencing or witnessing injuries as a result of a natural disaster or accident.

The severity of the trauma may have some impact on the risk factors for PTSD. For instance, a car accident in which a person receives only bruises may be less likely to trigger symptoms of PTSD than a car accident where severe injuries or the death of other victims occurs. Different people may have varied levels of mental tolerance following trauma, however, so it is difficult to gauge how individuals will respond to traumatic events. In general, the greater the risk to life, limb, or safety, the higher the risk for the appearance of post-traumatic stress disorder.

One of the key risk factors for PTSD is the availability of a support system and counseling for victims of trauma. In situations where victims are discouraged from admitting a problem, or do not possess a strong network of family or friends to turn to, the chances for developing long term, severe PTSD increase. Mental health experts stress the importance of resilience factors, such as the existence of a support group or use of therapy, as key to reducing and managing PTSD. Whether a person will develop the condition is also deeply linked to his or her mental coping strategies; those who tend to push down or ignore emotions and fear may be at a greater risk for developing PTSD.

The existence of related mental health conditions can also present risk factors for PTSD. Some mental health experts suggest that a person with a history of depression or high anxiety may have fewer mental defenses when trauma occurs, and thus be more likely to develop a resultant stress condition. A family history of anxiety, depression, or other mental health issues may also increase the risk to some degree. On the other hand, those already being treated for anxiety or depression may be more likely to recognize the early warning symptoms of PTSD, and thus may be better positioned to seek help from therapists or support systems.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

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Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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