How PTSD Is Diagnosed

Feb 02, 2024
How PTSD Is Diagnosed
Post-traumatic stress disorder causes overwhelming emotions and behaviors that negatively affect your life and make it hard to escape anxiety. Scheduling a diagnostic evaluation is the first step toward receiving treatment to overcome PTSD.

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) begins after you experience or witness an event that was frightening, emotionally intense, or life-threatening, or caused an injury.

Some people manage to overcome the emotional fallout in a few weeks. For others, the symptoms persist and PTSD develops, causing challenges that won’t improve without professional mental health care. That care begins with an evaluation to diagnose PTSD.

Kevin Joseph, DNP, PMHNP-BC, at Insight Psychiatric Services diagnoses PTSD by completing a psychiatric evaluation and determining if your symptoms meet the diagnostic criteria.  Let’s dive into the details and explore the steps you can expect during your evaluation.

Reviewing your medical history

PTSD has symptoms similar to other mental and physical conditions. Learning about your medical history allows us to rule out medical problems.

We may refer you to a physician or ask you to have lab tests if we discover a potential association between a health concern and your symptoms.

Identifying the traumatic event

While we need to learn about your experience, we’re always sensitive to your mental health needs. We understand you may not be ready to deal with the intense emotions that arise when talking about the traumatic event. Or you may not remember all the details.

We ensure you feel safe and supported as we explore the PTSD-triggering event as much as you can tolerate. Even if you can’t manage an in-depth discussion, we need a few pieces of information to diagnose PTSD.

Knowing when the trauma occurred and how long you’ve had symptoms is essential for diagnosing PTSD. It also helps to know if you experienced the trauma, witnessed it, or learned about it happening to a friend or family member.

Exploring your symptoms

We may ask you to complete a questionnaire that has about 20 questions covering PTSD symptoms and asks you to check a box indicating how often you experience them.

You don’t need to be specific about the frequency of your symptoms. You choose an answer on a scale ranging from not having the symptoms to having them extremely frequently.

We ask additional questions to clarify your symptoms, such as when they occur and how they affect your daily life, relationships, and ability to work.

Comparing symptoms to diagnostic criteria

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, has specific diagnostic criteria for PTSD. For starters, a dangerous, frightening, or life-threatening event must trigger your symptoms, and your symptoms should last longer than one month after the trauma.

While individual symptoms may differ in severity, your symptoms overall must be severe enough to disrupt your daily life or cause significant emotional distress.

The diagnostic manual divides all the possible symptoms into four categories. If you have PTSD, you have some symptoms from each category.

These are the four categories and their associated symptoms:


You persistently relive the traumatic event through:

  • Unwanted memories
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Emotional distress
  • Physical or behavioral reactions

Emotional distress and physical reactions occur when you’re reminded of the traumatic event.


Avoidance consists of two symptoms, and you could have one or both. You purposefully avoid people, places, events, objects, and situations that remind you of the trauma. You may try to stop thinking or talking about the event.

Negative thoughts and moods

This category refers to negative feelings and thoughts that began (or significantly worsened) after the trauma, including:

  • Difficulty recalling details of the trauma
  • Blaming yourself or others for the trauma
  • Feeling anger, guilt, shame, or fear
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Feeling isolated or detached from others
  • Having difficulty experiencing positive emotions like happiness
  • Having negative thoughts about yourself and others

Feeling depressed after experiencing trauma may be the first sign of PTSD.

Alterations in arousal and reactivity

These symptoms include:

  • Feeling irritable
  • Being aggressive
  • Having angry outbursts
  • Being easily startled
  • Being hypervigilant (always on guard)
  • Struggling to sleep
  • Engaging in reckless, self-destructive, or risky behaviors

You can overcome PTSD with treatment at Insight Psychiatric Services. Call our office in Sunrise, Florida, or use our online booking to schedule an evaluation and start personalized treatment.