Some 63% of Canadians say they have been exposed to a potentially traumatic event in their lives. These are the findings of a study conducted by Statistics Canada, in collaboration with the Public Health Agency of Canada. The study also shows that around 8% of people recover from these events with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Being “exposed” to a potentially traumatic event means it happened to the individual directly or indirectly. “Survey respondents were instructed to include all four of the following: events that happened directly to them, events that they witnessed, events that they learned about that happened to a close family member or a close friend, and events that they were repeatedly exposed to details about as part of their job,” explains Statistics Canada. 

Using data collected between September and December 2023, the study highlights the most common types of potentially traumatic events, with transportation accidents ranking first for both men and women. Natural disasters rank fourth.

For women, another common type of potentially traumatic event is sexual assault: 16% of women report having been exposed to sexual assault, compared with 4% of men.

Among the impacts of these traumatic events, the study notes alcohol and cannabis abuse among people with post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as difficulties at work: 25% of people aged 25 to 54 who reported moderate to severe symptoms were not working in the three months prior to responding to the survey, according to Statistics Canada.

A difficult diagnosis  

The difficulty of identifying these post-traumatic disorders persists, and the study insists on the variability of symptoms over time, and more specifically on the timing of their appearance. Symptoms of PTSD may appear weeks, months or even years after the traumatic event, it states.

In such cases, access to a healthcare professional remains a necessity. In 2021, a similar study carried showed that the majority of people meeting the criteria for PTSD had difficulty accessing healthcare services. In addition, 37% complained that the cost was too high, presenting a barrier to necessary services.

The data also indicates that 13% of young adults aged 18 to 24 reported moderate to severe symptoms of PTSD compared with 3% of people aged 65 and over.

According to figures released by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, one in two Canadians under the age of 40 suffers from a mental health disorder, and one-third of disability claims stem from these disorders.