DSM-5 PTSD: 8 criteria mental health pros will be looking for

The world of health care is constantly changing and evolving. When it comes to mental health, professionals work hard to continuously update mental illness guidelines and knowledge. This ensures that people get the proper diagnosis and treatment that they need. That’s why DSM-5 is a crucial resource for mental health providers. 

DSM-5 refers to The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition. It’s a handbook created by the American Psychiatric Association. As of 2023, it’s the most up-to-date resource for classifying and diagnosing mental health disorders.

One of the most essential elements of DSM-5 is the criteria needed to diagnose a mental health disorder, like PTSD.

What is PTSD?

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a disorder that can develop after having or witnessing a scary experience. About 5% of the United States population has PTSD in any given year. It causes emotional and psychological harm that can manifest anywhere from three months to several years after the traumatic event. These symptoms can interfere with your personal relationships. They can also make you feel overwhelmingly sad or angry.

PTSD symptoms include:

  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Negative thoughts
  • Avoidance
  • Intrusive thoughts

PTSD symptoms stem from triggers, or the fear of triggers. They are sights, sounds, and thoughts that can be mental and emotional reminders of the traumatic experience.

8 criteria of DSM-5 PTSD

For someone to be diagnosed with PTSD, their mental health care provider will determine if they fit the criteria outlined by DSM-5

For a mental health professional to diagnose you with DSM-5 PTSD, you must have all of the following:

  • Stressor — You must have been directly exposed to a traumatic event or been a witness. You may also have learned about the experience from someone close to you or been indirectly exposed to the details of it, such as seeing first responders at the scene of the event.
  • Intrusion symptoms — You have at least one intrusion symptom, which means reliving the traumatic event through flashbacks, nightmares or unwanted memories. Intrusion symptoms can also refer to emotional or physical distress caused by memories.
  • Avoidance — You avoid trauma-related stimuli, such as thoughts, feelings, and external reminders that mentally and emotionally bring you back to the event.
  • Negative alterations in cognitions and mood — You have at least two types of negative feelings or thoughts that were intensified after the traumatic event. This can refer to the inability to recall specific details from the event, exaggerated blame on yourself, decreased interest in activities or feeling isolated.
  • Alterations in arousal and reactivity — You experience arousal or reactivity after the traumatic event. This can include irritability, aggression or destructive behavior. You may also be exhibiting hypervigilance, increased startle responses or difficulty concentrating.
  • Duration — Symptoms must last for at least one month.
  • Functional significance — Your symptoms prevent you from completing your tasks at work or damage your social life
  • Exclusion — Your symptoms don’t stem from sources other than the traumatic event, such as medication, illness or substance use.

DSM-5 PTSD specifications

On top of meeting all the criteria outlined in DSM-5, a PTSD diagnosis may also have a specification: either dissociative or delayed.

A dissociative specification refers to high-level depersonalization or derealization. Depersonalization means that you feel detached from yourself or like an observer on the outside. On the other hand, derealization means you have a distorted perception of reality.

A delayed specification means that you don’t meet the full criteria required for a PTSD diagnosis until at least six months after the event takes place, regardless of how quickly you began to experience symptoms. 

How PTSD is treated 

PTSD can have long-term negative effects on your life, but there are treatment options that will help you to alleviate the symptoms. 

Therapy is one of the best ways to treat all mental health disorders, including PTSD. Mental health professionals have found several types of therapy that are successful in decreasing the harmful effects of the trauma-related disorder.

Here are four types of therapy that can help people living with PTSD:

  • Cognitive processing therapyCPT helps you to rework your beliefs surrounding the traumatic event, allowing you to have a new understanding of it.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapyCBT focuses on the collaboration of your thoughts, emotions and actions that surround your trauma, as well as the lasting impact of the event.
  • Prolonged exposurePE will help you to gradually expose yourself to the memories and feelings from your traumatic event. This helps you recognize that the memories can’t hurt you and shouldn’t be avoided.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)EMDR focuses on the memory of the traumatic event and adjusts the way that it’s stored in your brain. It involves you focusing on the event while experiencing rhythmic eye movements to reduce the memory’s vividness.

Lightfully Behavioral Health can help after a PTSD diagnosis

There is relief in having an answer. It’s important that people struggling after a traumatic event determine if they fit the DSM-5 criteria for PTSD diagnosis. And once you get that diagnosis, we’re here to help you start your treatment journey.

We offer four programs at our mental health treatment centers to assist you with your mental health journey while living with PTSD. There’s the residential treatment, Virtual Intensive Outpatient Program (vIOP), Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP), and Partial Hospitalization Program (PHP), also called our Day Treatment Program. 

Change is possible. When you’re ready to take the first step after a DSM-5 PTSD diagnosis, reach out to our Admissions Concierge Team. We’ll take the next steps together, toward the fullest, brightest version of you.

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