Instructions: Below is a list of problems that people sometimes have in response to a very stressful experience. Please
read each problem carefully and then circle one of the numbers to the right to indicate how much you have been
bothered by that problem in the past month.
The PTSD Checklist for DSM-5, frequently referred to as the PCL-5, is a self-assessment to measure the presence and severity of PTSD symptoms. DSM-5 refers to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is the standard reference used by healthcare providers to diagnose mental health and behavioral conditions.
If your responses to the PCL-5 suggest that you may suffer from PTSD, you may benefit from reaching out to a behavioral healthcare professional for help. Recovery from PTSD is possible, and is critical for a happier and more fulfilling life.
The PCL-5 is a 20-item checklist that can be used to determine the appropriate next steps or treatment options for someone who feels they may be suffering from PTSD. A total score of 33 or higher suggests that the respondent may benefit from PTSD treatment. A total score lower than 33 suggests that the respondent may not meet criteria for PTSD.
In any case, if a person feels they may struggle with PTSD, they should contact a healthcare professional for a more comprehensive assessment. The PCL-5 should not be the only assessment used to diagnose PTSD.
PTSD starts with a person suffering a trauma, but not every person who experiences trauma gets PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder is a combination of a traumatic ordeal that endangers the person or others and the response to the event that involves persistent fear, terror, or helplessness.
PTSD is a form of anxiety disorder, and it comes from an emotional stress overload. It is classified by mental health professionals as a Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder.
PTSD starts with a “fight or flight” reaction in response to a highly stressful, life-threatening situation where the body generates large amounts of stress hormones. With PTSD, this “fight or flight” response can happen even at the memory of a profoundly traumatic event.
It’s common to have disturbing and distressing memories, to experience edginess, or have some sleeplessness after a traumatic incident. If these symptoms last more than several months, it could be PTSD.
Untreated PTSD can lead to other symptoms as well, including anger, hypervigilance and an increased potential for developing a substance abuse disorder. Effective treatment can help alleviate PTSD.
PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) affects about 45 million people in the United States today.1 Women are about twice as likely as men to develop PTSD. The socioeconomic cost to our society is tremendous due to PTSD where it is estimated that:
The good news is that PTSD is treatable, and a person can be restored to normal functioning with the right treatment.
One common cause of PTSD is experiencing sexual violence or assault as a child or as an adult. Any form of sexual contact that occurs without an adult’s consent or that violates a child’s or adult’s sense of control, autonomy, and command over their own body can cause PTSD.
Throughout the 20th century, soldiers who suffered lasting mental health effects after combat were deemed to be “shell-shocked” or “battle fatigued”. We now recognize these conditions as being PTSD that comes from being in traumatizing combat events.
People who experience stressful natural disaster events such as hurricanes, fires, earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes can feel overwhelmed at the sudden devastation they experienced. The initial shock can then become PTSD.
Traffic accidents happen suddenly with little or no warning. The trauma associated with a crash can lead to PTSD, particularly if the person has had past trauma(s), if the traffic accident was life-threatening, or if the person has other mental health conditions.
An experience that causes serious injury can bring shock and horror. The physical consequences and psychological aftereffects can contribute to the onset of PTSD.
If you’ve experienced the following symptoms after a traumatic event, see a mental health professional about the possibility of PTSD.
Intrusive thoughts can plague people with PTSD. Flashbacks, where you repeatedly relive the trauma, occur. Physical symptoms happen just as they did during the original ordeal, such as sweating or elevated heart rate. Terrifying thoughts intrude during the day and nightmares invade your sleep.
The symptom of avoidance happens when you steer clear of any places, objects, or events that are reminders of the traumatic ordeal. Also, avoiding thoughts or feelings related to the traumatic experience can occur. Avoidance can affect daily life, causing you to change your routine.
Negative thoughts and moodiness can occur with PTSD. Negative thoughts may include guilt, blame, and bleak feelings about oneself or society. You may lose interest in activities you once found enjoyable. Trouble remembering key features of the traumatic encounter is also a common symptom. All these feelings and thoughts can lead to detachment and alienation from loved ones.
Arousal and reactivity symptoms include tenseness, being easily startled, insomnia, and anger. Arousal symptoms are typically always present, rather than being triggered by traumatic event reminders. These symptoms can make it hard to accomplish daily activities such as concentrating, eating, and sleeping.
You start to work much more than before the trauma event to occupy your thoughts to avoid intrusive or negative thoughts from taking hold.
If you feel unable to relate to other people, or that people don’t seem to understand how you can’t shake the symptoms from a trauma, you may isolate yourself. Isolation helps you avoid uncomfortable feelings that arise when you are with others.
You may be experiencing PTSD if you have a cluster of emotional symptoms, which include:
Physical symptoms can manifest with PTSD, including:
Children and teens can have severe reactions to trauma, but their symptoms can appear differently from adults. In children under 6 years old, the following symptoms can appear:
Older children and teenagers generally show symptoms similar to adults. Additionally, they may develop behavioral problems, such as being disrespectful, disruptive, or destructive. They may feel misplaced guilt for not “saving” others. They may also have thoughts of suicide or revenge.
Many factors play a role in PTSD development. Risk factors can make you more likely to develop PTSD. Resilience factors can help reduce the risk of PTSD.
Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. This includes war veterans and people who have been through a physical or sexual assault, abuse, accident, disaster, or other serious events. Not everyone with PTSD has been through a dangerous ordeal. Some people develop PTSD after a friend or family member experiences danger or harm. The sudden, unexpected death of a loved one can also lead to PTSD.
Some factors that increase risk for PTSD include:
Some resilience factors that can reduce PTSD risks include:
Currently, people with PTSD are treated with medications and psychotherapy. Since everyone is affected differently from PTSD, treatment must be designed for the particular person, because what may work for one person may not work well for another.
If you have PTSD, it’s important you seek help from a mental health professional who has experience treating this disorder. You may have to try several different treatments to find what works best for you. If you have other issues, such as ongoing trauma, depression, or substance abuse, you’ll need to treat all the co-occurring issues at the same time for effective recovery.
Medication has been proven to be an effective treatment for PTSD. According to the National Center for PTSD, 42 out of 100 people who take medication will no longer meet the guidelines for PTSD.3 Medications may be prescribed along with psychotherapy. Medications that effectively treat PTSD include:
Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, can help PTSD sufferers work through the trauma. According to the National Center for PTSD, 53 out of 100 people who receive PTSD psychotherapy treatment will no longer meet the guidelines for PTSD.3
Psychotherapy involves talking with a mental health professional regarding a mental health disorder like PTSD. Psychotherapy can be conducted on an individual basis or within a group. Treatment sessions typically run from 6 to 12 weeks, but can go longer when needed. You’ll learn about trauma and its effects, relaxation techniques, anger control, and how to live a healthier lifestyle.
Psychotherapy can help people with PTSD by addressing the symptoms directly or by focusing on PTSD-related problems. Mainly, therapy sessions include PTSD education, learning skills to help identify symptoms triggers, and how to manage symptoms.
Exposure therapy, a form of CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) can help you confront and control your fear. You’ll be slowly and safely exposed to the trauma. Methods used to do this are writing, imagining, or visiting the place where the event occurred. Your therapist uses these methods to teach you coping skills.
Cognitive restructuring is another form of CBT that helps you process the bad memories from a traumatic experience. You may remember the event differently from what happened. Consequently, you may feel guilty or shameful over things that occurred that were not your fault or that you had no control over. Your therapist will help you examine the incident in a rational way.
There are other types of treatment for PTSD, and you can discuss these options with your therapist. Effective treatment should help you manage your symptoms and get you back on track to the way you were before the trauma.
There are steps you can take outside of treatment to help yourself deal with PTSD. While it may be difficult, with treatment and your own management, you can recover.
At the bottom of this article is a list of state resources for finding help for both veterans and non-veterans dealing with PTSD. You can also ask your family doctor about treatment options.
You can also care for yourself by:
Service animals, most commonly dogs, can give you positive emotional benefits that help treat your PTSD. A dog in your home can boost your mood and relieve your stress. The companionship your dog provides can be fun and loving. Walking your dog can be a good source of regular exercise and fresh air. When you’re out with your dog, it can be a great way to meet new people.
Many people with post-traumatic stress disorder have other mental health and behavioral conditions that require treatment as well. A comprehensive treatment plan that integrates any existing disorders is necessary for successful recovery.
People with PTSD are 2 to 4 times more likely to also have a substance use disorder (SUD) compared to individuals without PTSD.4 A study of people with PTSD showed that almost half also had SUD.
PTSD along with SUD is not uncommon. That’s because individuals who are struggling to deal with the trauma from a serious event often self-medicate with drugs or alcohol to alleviate PTSD symptoms.
PTSD and anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) can go hand in hand. Anxiety disorders without trauma are the most common mental health conditions in the United States with about 30% of Americans experiencing anxiety-related symptoms at some point in their lives.5 Since anxiety is a major symptom of PTSD, it’s common for a separate anxiety disorder to then develop.
Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a debilitating mental health condition. Research shows that stressful life events, some of which could lead to PTSD, often occur at the onset of OCD. 6
Borderline personality disorder (BPD) and PTSD are frequently seen together, mostly in people who have experienced childhood sexual abuse. 7
Post-traumatic stress disorders and depression disorders are often co-occurring with half the people with PTSD also suffering from a major depressive disorder. 8 People with or at risk for depression often develop a major depressive disorder after suffering a traumatic event.
War veterans are seriously affected by PTSD, but they are not the only segment of the population that’s affected. Even children can get PTSD, and it can happen to anyone at any age.
Typically, PTSD symptoms start about 3 months after a trauma. In many cases, the symptoms begin many months or years later. For some, symptoms are continuous, and for others they appear, disappear, and then reappear. If symptoms don’t occur right after an event, it may be hard for the person to make the connection between the symptoms and the trauma.
Some people readjust after a traumatic ordeal, but others can’t, and this has nothing to do with mental weakness. There are many factors that determine if someone will get PTSD, such as the type, severity, and the length of the traumatic ordeal, the individual’s personality, the way the brain releases stress chemicals, and if the person had past trauma or has a solid support network.
Resources for PTSD treatment are increasing in the United States for veterans and non-veterans as awareness grows that it is a real problem that can be effectively treated with the right help.
The NAMI Helpline is a good place for people who are non-veterans to find effective treatment. THE NAMI NATIONAL HELPLINE 800-950-NAMI
For veterans, the Veterans Administration has PTSD programs offering treatment for combat-related conditions. NATIONAL DIRECTORY OF VA SERVICES 1-800-273-TALK
Instead of isolation and self-medication, reach out for help if you find yourself experiencing PTSD symptoms, even if the trauma ordeal may have happened months or years ago.