PTSD – post-traumatic stress disorder – is a mental health disorder triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a traumatic event. The most common symptoms include flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety, as well as intrusive thoughts about the traumatic event.
It’s natural to have difficulty coping after a traumatic event, but these feelings should go away on their own with time and self-care. If these symptoms only get worse or last for months or even years, you may be suffering from PTSD.
How to diagnose PTSD
PTSD can be diagnosed in a few different ways by your healthcare provider. Before scheduling an appointment, you can read up on the symptoms of PTSD to learn more about your condition.
Per the Mayo Clinic, PTSD can be diagnosed through these tests:
- A physical exam
- A psychological evaluation
- A comparison of your symptoms with the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5)
What are the symptoms of PTSD?
PTSD symptoms usually start within a month after your traumatic event, but in some cases do not appear until years after the event. These symptoms will greatly disrupt your personal and professional lives, as well as your ability to perform everyday tasks and activities.
PTSD symptoms can be grouped into four types: intrusive memories, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and changes in physical and emotional reactions. These symptoms are not mutually exclusive, and can vary over time or between different cases.
- Recurrent, unwanted memories of the initial event
- Flashbacks and reliving the traumatic event
- Nightmares about the event
- Severe emotional or physical distress to things that remind you of the event
- Avoiding thinking or talking about the traumatic event
- Avoiding people, places, or activities that remind you of the event
Negative Changes in Thinking and Mood
- Negative thoughts about yourself or the world
- Hopelessness about the future
- Problems remembering things, especially about the traumatic event
- Trouble maintaining close relationships
- Social withdrawal
- Loss of interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Trouble experiencing positive emotions
- Feeling emotionally hollow or numb
Changes in Physical and Emotional Reactions
- Startling easily
- Always being on guard for potential danger
- Self-destructive behavior like substance abuse
- Trouble concentrating
- Trouble sleeping
- Angry outbursts
- Aggressive behavior
- Feelings of guilt or shame
What causes PTSD?
PTSD is likely a complex mix of some of the following:
- Stressful experiences, such as trauma you have gone through over your lifetime
- Family history of mental health conditions
- Inherited personality features like overall temperament
- How your brain and body respond to stress
Risk factors can include the following:
- Going through intense or chronic trauma
- Childhood abuse
- Exposure to traumatic events through job
- Other mental health risks like anxiety or depression
- Substance abuse
- Lack of a strong support system
What are traumatic events?
Most commonly, PTSD is developed after witnessing or experiencing some of the following events:
- Combat exposure
- Physical or sexual abuse
- Violence or physical assault
- Being threatened with a weapon
- Emergency, disaster, or accident exposure