PTSD Awareness Month

Each June, we mark PTSD Awareness Month. It is a time to bring together people and programs across the country to spread awareness about PTSD—what it is and how to treat it—to help improve the lives of trauma survivors.

This year—during a global pandemic that has created significant challenges for so many people—PTSD Awareness Month comes at a time of increased public attention to how racism affects people of color.

PTSD and Racial Minorities

Racial minorities are more likely than whites to have PTSD. One explanation for these differences may be that racial minorities have more frequent exposure than whites to some types of traumatic events.

For example, racial minorities are more likely to live in areas with higher rates of community violence. But higher risk of being exposed to a traumatic event only partially explains the racial differences in PTSD prevalence. Additional factors are involved, including those that could affect recovery, such as the ongoing stresses of poverty and limited access to mental health care.

PTSD and Racial Discrimination

Racial discrimination is associated with worse physical and mental health and poorer quality of life. Growing evidence also points to experiences with racial discrimination as a factor that increases the risk of PTSD for racial and ethnic minorities.

Extreme experiences, such as racially-motivated physical or sexual assaults, meet the classic definition of a traumatic stressor: exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence. Whether experiences of racial discrimination that are less severe, such as verbal threats, can be said to “cause” PTSD is a topic of debate among experts, but it is clear that these other kinds of experiences are related to increased risk of PTSD.

Events known as microaggressions—everyday, more subtle experiences that communicate hostility or are derogatory toward a particular group—can also contribute to the overall negative impact of racism on mental health.

Future Research

Based on these known negative health effects of systemic racism and the racial disparities in PTSD, we are committed to promoting a focus on issues of race, racism, and cross-cultural competence in National Center for PTSD research and education projects.

Understanding the relationship of race and racism to PTSD are critical aspects of PTSD awareness. If you or someone you know has PTSD, reach out. PTSD is a treatable disorder, and there are a variety of effective treatments. 

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