The violence that women in disadvantaged neighborhoods experience and witness can result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms and full diagnoses, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study that examined a disadvantaged Chicago neighborhood.

Also noteworthy, women with PTSD diagnosis or sub-threshold PTSD had significantly more severe depression symptoms than women in the study who did not report experiencing trauma. Every woman who was recruited had symptoms of depression.

“There are many women who are affected by shooting and gang violence in these neighborhoods,” said first author Sunghyun Hong, a research assistant at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “These women are often overlooked. With this study, we were able to shine a light on this high prevalence of trauma exposure and PTSD diagnosis among the underserved population.”

This is one of very few studies to explicitly examine the impact that living in a disadvantaged neighborhood has on PTSD symptoms. The study was published Dec. 7 in the Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.

The traumatic experiences reported in the study were often violent or sexual in nature. One woman disclosed having witnessed the fatal shooting of her son, and another woman reported watching her father be murdered in her home.

The neighborhood from which women in the study were recruited ranked 7th for property crime, 26th for quality of life crime, and 35th for violent crime among 77 Chicago neighborhoods.

“Even if you don’t meet the full criteria for PTSD, you can have enough symptoms to impact your well-being,” senior author Inger Burnett-Zeigler said. “There is a substantial proportion of people who fall below the PTSD diagnosis line who might be getting lost in the cracks. It’s important for mental health providers to develop a greater awareness around this because untreated PTSD symptoms affect mental health, quality of life and functioning. … The prevalence of PTSD symptoms is particularly acute in impoverished neighborhoods,” Dr. Burnett-Zeigler said. “In the study’s sample, 71% of the women who experienced trauma had PTSD symptoms.”

The study was funded by Northwestern University Patient Centered Intervention and Training K-12 Scholars Program.