Do I Have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? A PTSD Questionnaire
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Debra Halseth, LCSW
When the term “anxiety disorder” is used, it isn’t uncommon for the mind to travel to Social Anxiety Disorder or General Anxiety Disorder. Less often, minds will glide over to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. An anxiety disorder that frequently goes overlooked, though, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, an anxiety disorder known for the intense trauma that precedes it. But what exactly qualifies someone as having PTSD?
PTSD: A Definition
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is an anxiety disorder that develops on the heels of a traumatic event or a series of traumatic events. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder varies in severity, with more severe cases significantly interrupting day-to-day life. Although everyone experiences the pain and shock of dealing with trauma, PTSD differs in its longevity; symptoms last long after symptoms would typically subside, usually at least 4 months or more. PTSD is an anxiety disorder that may have other disorders wrapped into it, including panic disorder, and requires the help of a health care professional.
What It Means to Have PTSD
While it may seem like it at the outset, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not always a life sentence. It is, admittedly, a harrowing disorder to have. Still, it is not untreatable, thankfully, and it is certainly possible to recover from its effects with the help of a health care team. Having PTSD means living in constant vigilance and being on guard 24/7. Having PTSD is not the same as having a physical wound. Although plenty of trauma comes along with physical wounds-a gunshot wound or broken bones-just as much comes without physical signs or symptoms, and PTSD can go undetected in people for years. Having PTSD can mean struggling to get out bed in the morning, or it can mean getting out and about, and everything feels like it is touching an exposed nerve.
Having PTSD is a struggle, in part because many people with PTSD feel alone or isolated from their peers. Avoidance, hypervigilance, flashbacks, and severe anxiety can all take a toll on an individual’s ability to function in typical settings, and trying to maintain a sense of normalcy might take up more headspace. Emotional energy than individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder have to spare, leading to self-isolation and withdrawing from friends and loved ones. Seeking health care might feel too frightening or overwhelming, as some people with PTSD may fear that they have lost their minds, or are on the verge of a breakdown.
Who Can and Cannot Experience Post Traumatic Stress
Although the name itself seems to cordon it off to a select few who have experienced trauma, trauma is far more common than most people realize. Far from only affecting individuals living in Third World countries, or people who have seen war, trauma touches the lives of virtually everyone at some point or another. As a consequence, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has the possibility of affecting the lives of practically anyone.
That being said, it is more common for individuals who have experienced severe trauma to develop PTSD. These traumas might include war, an intensive car accident, or a natural disaster. Even so, such intensely traumatic experiences are not prerequisites to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Divorce can cause trauma. Moving across the country can cause trauma. Being in an abusive partnership can cause trauma. PTSD is no longer an illness assigned to faraway people who have experienced unspeakable horror firsthand; instead, PTSD is now understood to affect a large number of people with countless backgrounds, sources of pain, and struggles, and health care teams are adapting as a result.
The symptoms of PTSD span a wide swath of experiences and behaviors, but there is a handful, in particular, that stands out as the core of PTSD symptoms. These include:
- Hyperarousal. Hyperarousal is a state defined by the desire to remain on high alert. This desire is driven by the trauma experienced and can look different on anyone. Common manifestations of hyperarousal include jumpy behavior (being easily startled), difficulty eating and sleeping, and destructive behavior. Hyperarousal can cause anxiety to spike, creating a compound effect, and making PTSD symptoms even more significant.
- Flashbacks, or “re-experiencing.” A flashback is usually punctuated by smells, sights, and sounds, and is far more visceral than a single memory. Flashbacks are often a film-like replay of the traumatic event taking place and can haunt individuals with this condition.
- Avoidance is defined as behavior that is engaged in to avoid something. Avoidance most often comes in the form of preventing a place that is heavily associated with the trauma you experienced. Avoidance might show itself through an individual refusing to revisit the corner of the road where they were in an accident, or could simply be a young woman who refuses to listen to a song because it was the song playing while she was assaulted.
- Cognitive and mood changes. The most common cognitive and mood changes that result from PTSD have increased irritability, decreased interest in friends and once-loved activities, feelings of despair or hopelessness, and perpetual negative thoughts about oneself and the world.
A PTSD Questionnaire
Unlike many moods and personality disorder quizzes and questionnaires online, there are numerous resources for legitimate PTSD questionnaires and evaluations. While these cannot and should not take the place of an evaluation from a mental health professional, they can be an excellent stepping stone for individuals who suspect PTSD but are hesitant to take up a health care specialist’s time or feel too embarrassed to begin digging into mental health without some type of assurance that something has, in fact, gone awry.
Perhaps the most pressing question when trying to determine if you are experiencing PTSD is this: “Have you experienced anything in your life that has caused immense stress, pain, or fear?”This is the first step toward determining whether or not PTSD is a realistic possibility. Although there are some instances in which trauma has been experienced without someone realizing it, it is far more common for sufferers to know and understand that something significant has happened, even if they are not certain of its scope.
Next, you can ask yourself, “Have you relived that experience in your mind or body?” In Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, flashbacks are common and can be extremely distressing. Far from being a simple flash of memory of a traumatic event, a flashback often transports sufferers back to the event to such an intense degree that they might feel as though they can smell, feel, or even taste the event causing the trauma. These flashbacks can be immensely distressing and have the potential to exacerbate existing anxiety or trauma.
From there, consider this: “Have you experienced significant changes to your life following the event mentioned above?” The answer to this is an important one, as it can help determine the difference between grief or an unpleasant memory and PTSD. The reason for this is simple: trauma disrupts the way your brain functions and the way you can get from place to place in your life. If you have experienced a significant source of trauma, you can develop PTSD.
Conclude with asking yourself, “Have you experienced any flashbacks, or indulged in avoidant behavior as a result of the trauma?” Flashbacks are visceral reactions, which involve far more than a simple recall switch. Instead, flashbacks may involve all of your senses and may sincerely feel as though you have been transported back in time. Avoiding the place where the trauma occurred or anything related to the trauma could also indicate the presence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
If your response to each of the questions above is a resounding “yes,” it would be wise to schedule a visit with your doctor. If you answered “yes” to some but not all of them, it might still be prudent to speak to a mental health professional to have your mental health checked out. If you did not respond “yes” to any of the questions above, it would not seem that PTSD is at play, but there may be another mental health condition at work.
Health care for PTSD can involve a few different forms of therapy. In some cases, medication is needed to help ease the symptoms of PTSD. More commonly, therapy is used. Trauma therapies such as EMDR may be used to work through Post Traumatic Stress symptoms, in addition to standard talk therapy. Some people find that additional assistance is needed, and may request lifestyle intervention assistance, and may even benefit from the help of a service animal, who can turn lights on and off, check rooms to make sure they’re empty, and provide a source of comfort and constancy, should a PTSD attack come on. Not each of these modalities will be available to everyone, but they are a standard baseline to work from. If you feel that you match the criteria set forth for PTSD, do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health professional to seek professional evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment. This can be done through your insurance company, local therapy directories, or even online, through companies such as BetterHelp. Whichever route you take, PTSD is a disorder borne of trauma; consequently, seeking treatment is a vital step forward in healing, improving your quality of life, and learning to cope with trauma.