The study aimed to understand how "distress" is experienced by patients with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the social-cultural context of São Paulo, Brazil, an urban environment marked by social inequality and high levels of violence. A qualitative study was conducted between 2008 and 2010 with PTSD patients (F43.1, ICD-10, 1997) who had been victims of robberies and kidnappings in São Paulo. Dense ethnographic observations were carried out, as well as in-depth semi-structured interviews with ten adult patients. The analysis method used was based on anthropology. The results show that it is particularly important to distinguish between perceptions of different forms of the experience of social suffering and perceptions of health and illness held by victims and biomedical experts. The cause of PTSD is more often associated with the personal problems of the victim than with the specific traumatic event. The distress described in terms of what is considered a "normal" reaction to violence and what is considered a symptom of PTSD. The findings indicate that the diagnostic of PTSD can be understood in relation to the different contexts within a culture. The ethnographic approach serves not only to illuminate individual suffering but also the social suffering experienced by the residents of São Paulo.