Are Some Racial Groups More Likely to Develop PTSD?

How Black 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 on 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 their 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.

There are also other factors that African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinx, and Native Americans may be more likely to be affected by including environmental, community, or work-related stress and trauma.

Race Does Not Lead to PTSD

Overall, a person is not more likely to develop PTSD just because of their racial or ethnic background. However, it seems as though that being from a minority group (with the exception of Latinos) is connected with an 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.

Racial Discrimination and PTSD

Other factors that have an important impact include things like racism and racial discrimination. Research has also found that race-based traumatic stress contributes to trauma reactions such as sleep disturbances, depression, anxiety, depression, and dissociation.

The burden of historical and intergenerational trauma that ethnic minorities are burdened with may also play a role in contributing to mental health and trauma issues.

Research also suggests that there is an interaction between the severity of post-traumatic stress, discrimination, and race/ethnicity/gender. Such findings suggest that stress caused by racial discrimination can affect PTSD severity differently for people of various ethnic and gender groups.

A 2019 study found that the frequency with which people experienced racial discrimination significantly predicted a diagnosis of PTSD and contributed to lower remission rates over a five year period. Such finding suggest that experiencing racial discrimination does increase the risk for developing PTSD and may play a part in worsening treatment outcomes.

Race and Risk Factors Increases PTSD Vulnerability

A person's racial or ethnic background seems to influence the development of PTSD only to the extent that other risk factors are present.

Simply being Black, Asian or from a certain racial or ethnic background appears not to increase the likelihood that a person will develop PTSD.

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. One study found that when people belonging to a racial or ethnic minority in the U.S. are diagnosed with PTSD, the condition usually goes untreated. 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.

6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Matthew Tull, PhD
Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder.