Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can abruptly disrupt our beliefs and emotional well-being. PTSD is a complex disorder that can start within a month of the traumatic event, or even years later. The symptoms can be disabling and cause problems in one's work, home life, and relationships.
We detail below how symptoms are clinically characterized and how PTSD is diagnosed. Reviewing this information and doing a self-screening will enable you to determine if you may have PTSD. However, a self-screening is no substitute for a professional diagnosis. If you think you may have PTSD, consult a professional experienced in PTSD for a formal diagnosis. Also, keep in mind that symptoms can vary considerably from person to person, and over time.
The symptoms you may have experienced are generally categorized as follows:
Hyperarousal symptoms may cause you to feel like you’re always on edge, you may have difficulty getting to sleep (and staying asleep), you may be easily startled.
Avoidance symptoms may cause you to want to avoid familiar places, people and things that may remind you of the original trauma. Your world feels smaller. You don’t want to leave your house or socialize with others.
Re-experiencing symptoms is where you feel like you’re actually reliving the trauma. You may have flashbacks or nightmares, or possibly even re-experience physical pain associated with the trauma (as if it were happening again in real-time)!
All of these symptoms are common after experiencing trauma, but it only becomes clinically diagnosable if the symptoms last for more than a few months.
Trained mental health professionals employ a 30-60 minute interview assessment called the Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS) that corresponds to the DSM criteria. There are three versions of the CAPS-5 corresponding to different time periods: past week, past month, and worst month (lifetime)
A few of the questions they may ask include:
In the past month, have you had any unwanted memories of [the traumatic event] while you were awake (not counting dreams or nightmares)?
Are these unwanted memories, or are you thinking about[the traumatic event] on purpose?
To what degree do these memories bother you?
Are you able to put them out of your mind and think about something else?
How often have you had these memories in the past month?
While it’s important to be professionally diagnosed, self-screening can be helpful. The Veteran’s Administration’s Center for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome created a simple self-screening to help patients determine if they need to seek the help of a professional:
“In the past month, I experienced three or more of the following”:
Nightmares or intrusive thoughts regarding the event
Avoid people, places or things that remind you of event or frequently try not to think about the event
Always on guard or hyperarousal (easily startled)
Feel numb or detached from your surroundings or people
Feelings of guilt or blame for the event