Statistics And Figures: What Age Group Shows The Most PTSD In The United States?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 21, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

PTSD can affect people of all ages, races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and belief systems. The core of PTSD is usually trauma, and trauma can impact anyone’s life through accidents, abuse*, natural disasters, and the threat of injury. In general, statistics do not usually indicate that any age group may be more likely than another to experience PTSD. However, it’s estimated that approximately 6% of adults in the United States may develop PTSD at some point during their lives. The presence of support can protect against the development of PTSD in some cases, and various types of therapy can be helpful in treating PTSD symptoms. You can begin PTSD treatment with a licensed mental health professional in person or online.

*If you are facing or witnessing abuse of any kind, the National Domestic Violence Hotline is available. Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or text "START" to 88788. You can also use the online chat.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
PTSD can impact individuals of all ages

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can be defined as a pervasive anxiety disorder associated with avoidant behavior, personality changes, recurring memory surges, and hyperarousal. These four core symptoms are usually the standard barometer by which PTSD is measured and tested. 

Within each of these symptoms may be a series of smaller symptoms that can add up to create a disorder that may severely and negatively impact an individual's quality of life. PTSD is not always easy to detect, however, and its symptoms may be minimized by those who live with it out of fear, embarrassment, or unawareness.

The onset of PTSD is typically caused by trauma. The exact function of PTSD may be for your mind to shield itself from the gravity of the trauma to ward off shock. Over time, though, if the traumatic memories are not safely and effectively addressed, they may lead to mental and physical symptoms.

PTSD is not necessarily a linear disorder. In general, you do not experience trauma and immediately begin to display symptoms of PTSD. This can be one of the reasons the disorder is often difficult to detect. Weeks, months, or even years can pass before symptoms arise, frequently making self-detection difficult and confusing. 

For some, it may seem as though they've lost their minds when persistent nightmares and recurring flashbacks begin years after a trauma. Others may be afraid and believe they will be mocked or derided for their weakness if they acknowledge that a traumatic event is still haunting them. Some may not connect their symptoms to the trauma itself and may instead consider symptoms signs of anxiety or discomfort.

Symptoms must generally last for one month or longer to qualify for a PTSD diagnosis, and a diagnosis must come from a licensed mental health professional.

How does PTSD affect individuals and communities? 

Symptoms of PTSD do not usually exist in a vacuum. By default, family members, friends, and other loved ones of people with PTSD may be affected by the condition. Because many people with PTSD may become emotionally distressed, withdrawn, and absent, loving relationships can be heavily fractured and strained when PTSD is present. 

Even work relationships can struggle when PTSD is involved, as one of the symptoms of PTSD can be personality changes, which may include increased aggression, anger, irritability, paranoia, fear, and apprehension. These emotional responses can negatively impact work performance and can create tension in relationships with coworkers, managers, and clients.

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In large-scale PTSD communities, such as those with a lot of veterans, or communities that have experienced losses at the hands of natural disasters or large-scale deaths, workforces can decrease, mental health needs can increase, and the demand for mental health services may exceed the availability of those resources. Although there may be many programs designed to alleviate these types of effects in communities that have fallen on hard times, the economic and social impacts of large numbers of people with PTSD can be staggering.

Are certain age groups more likely to develop PTSD?

Statistically, PTSD does not normally adhere to a single age limit for diagnosis. Unlike many neurodegenerative disorders, mood disorders, and personality disorders, PTSD typically develops in response to experiences rather than genetics. Living in a dangerous or war-torn region can be far more likely to increase your risk of developing PTSD than any age-related criteria.

However, PTSD developed in childhood may increase one's risk of developing other mood and personality disorders in adulthood. Childhood trauma can be particularly damaging and complex, and experiencing even a single trauma in childhood can have a marked effect on the entirety of your development, your outlook on life, and your long-term resilience. Children who have experienced trauma usually have a greater risk for physical ailments as well, suggesting that childhood trauma may be particularly difficult to process and heal from.

Trauma may also be more pronounced in children because children do not usually possess the same reasoning abilities as adults. While adults can often identify and process the motivation behind behaviors and occurrences, children may not have developed the same reasoning and may have a much harder time comprehending why things happen and how they can be processed.

Children can be even more powerfully impacted by news reports than adults. Children who are exposed to news without any filter tend to be more likely to develop depression and anxiety compared to children whose parents or caregivers are more selective about exposure to news outlets and other sources of information. 

PTSD: Who does it affect?

The risk factors associated with PTSD usually have little to do with age or background. Instead, the greatest determiner in the development of PTSD is typically the presence of trauma. People who have repeated exposure to trauma may be at greater risk of developing PTSD, as may be people who have previously experienced some form of anxiety disorder.

There is generally no race, age, or other affiliation that decreases your risk of developing PTSD, but there can be certain factors that contribute to healthier relationships with stress, anxiety, and fear. 

The greatest determiner of whether PTSD will develop may be the presence of support. Children and adults with consistent, loving, and nurturing support systems tend to be less likely to develop PTSD and may be more able to effectively process traumatic incidents.

People who seek treatment quickly can also be more likely to experience relief soon after symptoms occur. PTSD treatment can be a powerful tool in healing and taking control of your life and well-being.

PTSD treatment

Getty/AnnaStills
PTSD can impact individuals of all ages

Although there may be no definitive age or age range that is more likely to experience the onset of PTSD, the disorder may be more pronounced in children, and children may have far more triggers leading to the development of PTSD than adults.

Although PTSD can be challenging for children and adults alike, the condition can be extremely treatable in people of all ages and backgrounds. It does not necessarily require extensive plans, expensive doctors, or endless rounds of treatment. Instead, people seeking treatment for PTSD should generally seek out a licensed mental health professional who has experience working with PTSD and identify a treatment modality that works for their situation.

Therapists can enlist the help of numerous treatment modalities, some of them talk-focused like cognitive behavioral therapy, and others centered more around rewiring neural connections to improve the trauma response, as in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR. These techniques can aid people of all ages in healing symptoms of PTSD and effectively processing trauma.

Benefits of online therapy

In some cases, PTSD triggers can make it challenging to leave the house and visit new locations, such as a therapist’s office. Online therapy can make it less stressful to attend therapy, as you may connect with a licensed therapist from any location with an internet connection, including your own home. In addition, the option to speak with a mental health professional via video call, phone call, or online chat can help those with PTSD personalize their treatment and feel more comfortable.

Effectiveness of online therapy

A 2016 study investigated the potential effectiveness of online cognitive therapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. The results generally indicated that this type of treatment “was associated with very large improvements on all outcome and process measures, with 80% of patients achieving clinically significant change and remission from PTSD.”

Takeaway

Anyone who experiences trauma, no matter their age, may develop PTSD. Although the experience of this disorder can be more pronounced in children than in adults, children are not necessarily more likely than adults to experience PTSD. A strong support system can protect against the development of PTSD in some cases. Treatment usually consists of various types of therapy, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. You can start treatment by seeking out a local therapist experienced in working with people who have PTSD, or you may match with a licensed mental health professional through an online therapy platform.
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