What are the symptoms of PTSD?

Sometimes people wonder if they have PTSD of some sort.  Well, here’s a “quiz” to see if you have classic PTSD symptoms from adult traumas or perhaps complex childhood PTSD.  This list is based on the diagnostic criteria of the American Psychiatric Association, put into non-technical language (to the best of my ability). So it may give you an indication of whether you might want to seek professional help.  However, only a mental health professional can actually diagnose PTSD, after interviewing you regarding your situation.

Also, if your situation is distressing to you and interfering with your ability to live your life, that’s what we usually call “clinically significant distress.”  Then you don’t necessarily need this “quiz”—you can just go ahead and call a mental health provider for some assistance.   If you are in Colorado Springs, I’ll talk with you for 15 minutes at no charge (719-377-4577 or even better, email me at Jeff.Farmer.Therapy@gmail.com).

[If the things you’re having trouble with happened to you as a child, then things might not look exactly like this. There’s a different set of criteria for what we sometimes call complex childhood PTSD.  You can read more about childhood trauma here.]

To have “official” PTSD, each letter category below should apply to you.

A. Exposure

You were exposed to one of the following: death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence, in one the following way(s).

[This is “the traumatic event.”]

  1. It happened to you or you actually (physically) witnessed it happen to someone else.
  2. You found out that it happened to a close family member or close friend.
  3. You have been repeatedly exposed to details of these kinds of traumas, even if you didn’t know the people. This typically happens in war or to first responders—police, firefighters, etc., as well as with medical and mental health professionals.

B. Intrusion

At least one of the following things persistently continues to happen:

  1. You have unwanted distressing memories of the event (not just sadness).
  2. You have nightmares about it.
  3. If you have flashbacks (you feel like you are re-experiencing some aspect of the event—visually, auditorially, emotionally—or the whole event).
  4. You feel distressed whenever you see or experience certain reminders of the event.
  5. You have unpleasant physical reactions when you are reminded of the event (body tension, nausea, sensations of heat or cold, agitation, elevated heart rate, etc.)

C. Avoidance

You avoid some of the following things that are related to the traumatic event:

  1. Thoughts or feelings related to the event, or
  2. Physical objects or events that remind you of it.

D. Negative changes in thoughts and emotions (you need two of these)

With regard to the traumatic event, you

  1. have difficulty recalling important details of the event
  2. have more negative thoughts about yourself or the world
  3. inappropriately blame yourself or others for the trauma (even though you know it really doesn’t make sense to)
  4. feel bad emotions more often
  5. have less interest in doing things
  6. feel more isolated
  7. have trouble feeling good emotions

E. Negative changes in how you react to things (you need two of these also)

After the event, you

  1. became more irritable or aggressive
  2. engaged in more risky or destructive behavior
  3. are always watching out for bad things (hypervigilance)
  4. are more easily startled
  5. have more difficulty concentrating
  6. have more difficulty sleeping

F. The symptoms above have lasted for more than one month.

The natural process of recovery after a traumatic event usually lasts a few weeks.  If this has gone on for more than a month without getting better (sometimes it gets worse over time), then check this one off.

G. The symptoms are distressing to you or interfere with your functioning.

This is how we define mental health problems.  If it bothers you significantly, it’s a problem.

H. The symptoms are not due to medication, substance use, or other illness.

This is where you probably need a medical or mental health professional to help.  If it’s not obviously caused by something else, then go ahead and check this one off.

That’s it. If you marked one in each of A,B and C, at least two in each of D and E, and then F,  G and H are also true, then your situation may fit the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of PTSD.  In this case, you might want to see a mental health professional to be sure.  That’s because the above list is simplified in some ways. You may also wish to seek treatment.  PTSD can be successfully treated—there are a number of good therapies available for it, such as Trauma Dynamics or EMDR

[Learn more about what we believe PTSD really is and how many of us think it works.]

More information about PTSD from the National Institutes of Mental Health

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