Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Risks

When an individual experiences, witnesses, or even learns about an extremely frightening event or ordeal (especially one involving death, terrible injury, or sexual abuse), they have an increased PTSD risk.

Terrible experiences lead individuals to experience intense horror, a sense of helplessness, and intense fear: their “fight or flight” response is activated, but then usually goes away after the event is over.

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What Causes Some People And Not Others To Develop PTSD?

While most people readjust to normal life after a terrible event, some find that their feelings of horror, fear, and helplessness worsen with time: their “fight or flight” response has malfunctioned and continues to wreak mental and emotional havoc for months or years after the event is over.

Traumatic Events Increasing PTSD Risks

These events can cause an individual to have increased Posttraumatic Stress Disorder risks:

  • Physical attack
  • Active-duty combat
  • Child abuse and/or child neglect
  • Sexual abuse or assault
  • Extreme life events (for example: car accidents, house fires, or medical emergencies)


PTSD is a mental health issue that affects different people in different ways. People of any age—even children—are at risk for PTSD. While experts are not sure exactly what causes PTSD in some people and not in others, some of these Posttraumatic Stress Disorder risks can be attributed to:

  • How an individual’s brain controls hormones and chemicals in stressful situations
  • Inherited risks of depression or anxiety
  • The temperament or personality of an individual
  • The level of severe trauma experienced during and since early childhood
  • Family instability, lack of a social support system, or poverty
  • Women are twice as likely to develop PTSD than men
  • Having a pre-existing emotional or mental health disorder, eating disorder, or drug/alcohol abuse
  • Sleep disorders such as insomnia or sleep apnea

The Risk for Developing PTSD Varies Depending on the Trauma Experienced


Natural disasters


Witnessing someone being killed or seriously injured


Life-threatening illness of a child


Unexpected, sudden death of a friend or family member


Stabbing or shooting


Serious injury due to an accident such as a car accident


Other sexual assault


Physical assault or severe beating



Individuals With PTSD Risks

Victims of violent actions

  • Rape
  • Domestic violence
  • Mugging
  • Kidnapping
  • Carjacking
  • Torture
  • Kidnapping
  • School shooting

Individuals in medical situations

  • Invasive medical procedures
  • Life-threatening illnesses
  • Terminal diagnosis
  • Having a loved one experience a dangerous illness
  • Childbirth trauma


Victims of natural disasters

  • Earthquakes
  • Tornadoes
  • Hurricanes
  • Floods

Victims of acts of war

  • Combat vets in active combat zones
  • Civilians who experience victimization in war
  • Prisoners of war

Victims of catastrophic events

  • House fire
  • Terrorist act
  • Plane crash
  • Car accident
  • Industrial accident
  • Unexpected, sudden death of a relative or close friend

Victims of childhood abuse

  • Child neglect
  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Sexual abuse

Professionals who experience trauma on the job

  • Police
  • Search & Rescue workers
  • Military
  • National Guard
  • Emergency medial service professionals
  • Firefighters