PTSD DSM 5: Understanding The Criteria For PTSD

Reviewed by Dawn Brown, LPC, NCC

Published 12/11/2020

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD impacts roughly 3.5% of adults aged 18 or older in the United States. It can affect people of any gender, but PTSD is actually more likely to occur in women – twice as likely, in fact. Additionally, children and teens can be diagnosed with PTSD. Despite being painted as a disorder that’s only for those who’ve been in the military for so long, that is not the only potential cause or trauma related to PTSD. PTSD can develop after any traumatic event. So, what is PTSD? How do you know if you have it?

What Is PTSD?

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PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is, in some ways, exactly what it sounds like. After someone experiences trauma, they may have difficulty recovering from the said event and may develop PTSD. PTSD is characterized by symptoms such as re-experiencing a traumatic event through flashbacks or nightmares, hypervigilance, and avoidance of places, things, or events that remind one of the traumatic experiences they endured.

Most people first recognized PTSD in the year 1980, when it was included in the third publication and release of the DSM. The DSM or diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders is used by medical and mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, such as PTSD, major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, and anxiety disorders.

While PTSD was first recognized in the DSM-3, the DSM-5 is the most recent version of the DSM at this time, and some adaptations have been made in the DSM over the years to better diagnose and categorize mental health conditions. PTSD used to be categorized as an anxiety disorder, but while PTSD can pair with anxiety and can cause a person to experience anxiety symptoms (for example, hypervigilance or irritability), it is now known as a trauma disorder and is listed under a separate category.

DSM 5 PTSD checklist

Here is a checklist of PTSD symptoms in the DSM-5. To be diagnosed with PTSD, you must have been exposed to a traumatic event, whether that’s through a first-hand experience or by proxy. The DSM-5 explains this by saying that, to be diagnosed, one must have had “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence in one (or more) of the following ways:

  1. Directly experiencing the traumatic event(s).
  2. Witnessing, in person, the event(s) as it occurred to others.
  3. Learning that the traumatic event(s) occurred to a close family member or close friend. In cases of actual or threatened death of a family member or friend, the event(s) must have been violent or accidental.
  4. Experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of the traumatic event(s) (e.g., first responders collecting human remains; police officers repeatedly exposed to details of child abuse).” (Note that this doesn’t include exposure through the media)

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If someone meets the criteria above, they must then:

Meet one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Intrusive, non-voluntary, and recurring distressing memories of the traumatic event or events (note that a child may present these symptoms through re-creating the event or pieces of it during play)
  • Dissociation or dissociative reactions such as flashbacks where someone feels as though the traumatic event is happening again. In severe cases, someone might disassociate and lose awareness of their actual current surroundings (again, in children, a re-creation of events may occur during playtime)
  • Recurring distressing dreams related to the traumatic event (a child might experience nightmares without context)
  • Prolonged or intense emotional or psychological distress when there is exposure to external or internal cues or symbolism resembling the traumatic event or aspects of it
  • Notable psychological reactions to external or internal cues that symbolize, re-create, or resemble the traumatic event or aspects of it

One or both of the following symptoms:

  • Making an effort to avoid distressing thoughts, memories, feelings, or sensations associated with the traumatic event
  • Avoidance of external reminders such as people, places, things, conversations, topics, activities, circumstances, or scenarios that bring about distressing thoughts, memories, or feelings associated with the traumatic event or about the traumatic event (or making an effort to avoid these things)

Two or more of the following:

  • The inability to remember or recall important pieces of The traumatic event or events (generally, this is due to dissociative amnesia)
  • Exaggerated or persistent negative beliefs about one’s self other people, or the world around them
  • Diminished interest or participation in activities
  • A persistent negative emotional state, which may consist of fear, anger, guilt, or something else
  • A persistent inability to experience positive emotions (happiness, satisfaction, etc.)
  • Persistent and distorted cognitions or beliefs about the cause or consequences of the traumatic event, which may lead someone to blame themself or others
  • Feeling detached or estranged from other people

And two or more of the following:

  • Angry outbursts or irritability, which may be expressed verbally or physically (with little to no reason)
  • Hypervigilance
  • Self-destructive or reckless behaviors
  • An exaggerated startle response
  • Difficulty focusing or concentrating
  • Difficulty with sleep (trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or experiencing restless sleep)

These disturbances must last for more than one month, and they must not be due to the use of a substance or another condition. For the full DSM-5 criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD, click here. For children who are six years old or under the age of six, there is a section in the DSM titled “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder for Children 6 Years and Younger” to refer to that describes how the disorder may present in kids aged six or below.

DSM-5 Code For PTSD

In the DSM 5, PTSD is listed under the category of “Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorders.” The DSM 5 PTSD code is F43.10. To be diagnosed with PTSD formally, you must see a medical or mental health professional who is able to diagnose mental health conditions. The person most likely to provide you with a diagnosis is a psychiatrist.

Treatment For PTSD

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Talk therapy is one of the most popular treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. If you have post-traumatic stress disorder, you may benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT, present-centered therapy, or EMDR. If you’re looking for a therapist or counselor to see for PTSD, look for a trauma-informed therapist. You might see someone who practices online, or you might see someone in your local area. To find a therapist or counselor, search the web for a trauma-informed counselor therapist near you, contact your insurance company or visit their website, ask your doctor for a referral, check out your employee assistance program and see what it offers, or try remote counseling. Even therapies such as EMDR can be conducted remotely and are shown to be effective when conducted online. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help if you have PTSD. Therapy is known to help, and PTSD symptoms can improve over time. If you have PTSD or think you might, you don’t have to suffer alone or in silence. If you’re looking for low-cost therapy, you may visit a community center, religious institution, or educational institution for therapy or counseling. Remote counseling offered by online therapy sites is also often less expensive than traditional in-person counseling. If you’re struggling to find a provider, the Mind Diagnostics provider search tool located at the upper right-hand corner of your page can help. Support groups may also be beneficial to those who have experienced trauma, though it’s crucial to note that support groups aren’t the same as therapy, counseling, or any other form of mental health treatment.

Do I Have PTSD?

If you relate to the PTSD criteria in the DSM, you may have PTSD or a similar disorder. The only way to get a formal diagnosis is to see a provider who is able to diagnose mental health conditions, such as a psychiatrist. If you aren’t sure where to go, making a doctor’s appointment is the best first step to take. You can make an appointment with a general doctor if you don’t have a primary care provider (PCP) or general doctor that you see regularly. From there, they’ll be able to give you a referral to a mental health provider. Note that even if you don’t think you have post-traumatic stress disorder or aren’t sure, but you have faced a traumatic experience or event, seeing a mental health provider can help. A counselor or therapist can help people learn coping skills, manage mental health conditions, work through traumatic events, life stressors, relationships, and more.

Take The Mind Diagnostics PTSD Test

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Do you wonder if you could have post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD? If so, you might consider taking the Mind Diagnostics PTSD test. It is not a replacement for a diagnosis from a medical or mental health professional, but it can give you some insight into your symptoms and what you might be experiencing. While PTSD can impact people under the age of 18, the Mind Diagnostics PTSD test is for those aged 18 and older. It’s free, fast to take, and confidential.

Click here to take the Mind Diagnostics PTSD test.