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Race/ethnic differences in exposure to traumatic events, development of post-traumatic stress disorder, and treatment-seeking for post-traumatic stress disorder in the United States

  • A. L. Roberts (a1), S. E. Gilman (a1) (a2), J. Breslau (a3), N. Breslau (a4) and K. C. Koenen (a1) (a2) (a5)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 29 March 2010

To identify sources of race/ethnic differences related to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), we compared trauma exposure, risk for PTSD among those exposed to trauma, and treatment-seeking among Whites, Blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the US general population.


Data from structured diagnostic interviews with 34 653 adult respondents to the 2004–2005 wave of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) were analysed.


The lifetime prevalence of PTSD was highest among Blacks (8.7%), intermediate among Hispanics and Whites (7.0% and 7.4%) and lowest among Asians (4.0%). Differences in risk for trauma varied by type of event. Whites were more likely than the other groups to have any trauma, to learn of a trauma to someone close, and to learn of an unexpected death, but Blacks and Hispanics had higher risk of child maltreatment, chiefly witnessing domestic violence, and Asians, Black men, and Hispanic women had higher risk of war-related events than Whites. Among those exposed to trauma, PTSD risk was slightly higher among Blacks [adjusted odds ratio (aOR) 1.22] and lower among Asians (aOR 0.67) compared with Whites, after adjustment for characteristics of trauma exposure. All minority groups were less likely to seek treatment for PTSD than Whites (aOR range: 0.39–0.61), and fewer than half of minorities with PTSD sought treatment (range: 32.7–42.0%).


When PTSD affects US race/ethnic minorities, it is usually untreated. Large disparities in treatment indicate a need for investment in accessible and culturally sensitive treatment options.

Corresponding author
*Address for correspondence: K. C. Koenen, Ph.D., Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, 677 Huntington Avenue, Kresge Building, 7th Floor, Boston, MA02115, USA. (Email:
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