Are Some Racial Groups More Likely to Develop PTSD?

How blacks and Asian Americans are vulnerable

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Researchers have been very interested in answering the question of whether or not there are ethnic and racial differences in the development of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

To answer some of these questions, a group of researchers interviewed more than 5,000 people from different racial groups across the United States. They wanted to learn more about the co-occurrence of different mental disorders, as well as whether or not people are equally likely to have a certain disorder, such as PTSD, depending upon their age, sex, marital status, or race or ethnicity.

Race/Ethnicity Differences in PTSD

A person's race or ethnicity was not found to influence whether or not he had PTSD at some point in his life. However, other differences were found.

African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans tended to report having experienced fewer traumatic events as compared to European Americans and Latinos. Despite this, African Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans were all more likely to develop PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event as compared to European Americans and Latinos.

One's Race Does Not Lead to PTSD

Overall, a person is not more likely to develop PTSD just because of her racial or ethnic background. However, it seems as though that being from a minority group (with the exception of Latinos) is connected with increased likelihood (or risk) for having PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event.

Although some other researchers have found that people from minority groups are more likely to develop PTSD after a traumatic event, this does not seem to be solely about a person's racial or ethnic identification.

Instead, people from some minority groups may be more likely to have other characteristics (or risk factors) that increase the likelihood that they will develop PTSD after a traumatic experience. These risk factors may include less access to mental health care or the experience of more severe traumas when they do experience a traumatic event.

A Combination of Race and Risk Factors Increases PTSD Vulnerability

Simply being black, Asian or from a certain racial or ethnic background appears not to increase the likelihood that a person will develop PTSD. Instead, a person's racial or ethnic background seems to influence the development of PTSD only to the extent that other risk factors are present.

It is important for people to be aware of which factors increase the likelihood that PTSD will develop. In doing so, steps can be taken to reduce the likelihood of PTSD after experiencing a traumatic event. Seeking social support or psychological treatment after a traumatic event may help to "counteract" these risk factors.

Pursuing mental health care is still taboo in and outside of communities of color, but obtaining counseling or psychiatric services may lower one's risk of developing PTSD and other mental health problems. If you don't know where to get help, speak with a physician, a clergy member or search online to find the resources available in your community.

Needing mental health services is no reason to feel ashamed. It's an important form of self-care.

Source:

Keane, T.M., & Barlow, D.H. (2002). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.), Anxiety and its disorders, 2nd edition (pp. 418-453). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Kessler, R.C., Sonnega, A., Bromet, E., Hughes, M., & Nelson, C.B. (1995). Posttraumatic stress disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey. Archives of General Psychiatry, 52,1048-1060.

Perilla, J.L., Norris, F.H., & Lavizzo, E.A. (2002). Ethnicity, culture, and disaster response: Identifying and explaining ethnic differences in PTSD six months after Hurricane Andrew. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 21, 20-45.

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