Have you ever wondered if online screens like a PTSD test are accurate? The answer is tricky.
An online PTSD test should be considered educational, not as a way to know for sure if you have a certain diagnosis. That’s because a lot of unforeseen things might go into a diagnosis, and a single screen can’t always account for these factors. So only a professional can formally make this determination.
The questions in tests like this one are based on the symptom categories of the DSM-5, which is the manual used by professionals to make mental health diagnoses. However, the list of symptoms doesn’t consider complicating medical factors (like for instance a brain injury, illness, or stroke), or even how recent a trauma is.
And, often someone can have PTSD-like symptoms temporarily, especially right after a trauma, but then get gradually better as the weeks pass. Or, they could get gradually worse. This would be very difficult to assess with just some written questions, so that’s where a clinician and in-person, or at least live, interview can be key. Dozens of factors could go into a final diagnosis, and even after all of that, often doctors and therapists disagree on what the right diagnosis is!
However, if you take these informal tests for what they are - an informational exercise -- then screens like our PTSD test can give you an idea if you might meet the criteria for a more formal diagnosis. So this information should help educate you and let you know if you’re headed in the right direction for help, but shouldn’t take the place of a more official screening by a mental health professional.
You should also know that with PTSD specifically, there is effective therapy that can help most people get better in a matter of a few months, so you shouldn’t panic if you get a high score.
Below are ways a PTSD test might be helpful for you, followed by the five things a PTSD test likes this one screens for. Keep reading to learn more!
Why a PTSD test Might Be Helpful
So, should you make use of a PTSD test or screen? If it helps you understand the symptoms and encourages you to get qualified help, then I would say yes! Here are ways taking a PTSD test might help you:
Simply taking a PTSD test can help you recognize symptoms. The tests are typically asking direct questions that relate to each of the symptom categories from the DSM, used to diagnose PTSD. So, often people with high symptoms are a bit amazed or surprised if they’ve not seen this type of screen before. Somehow, whoever wrote the test seems to know exactly what you’re going through. That's because if you have PTSD, it comes with a handful of miserable symptoms that may be unique to your trauma, but is not unlike what millions of others are also experiencing. So it can both normalize you experience, and educate you about symptoms.
A PTSD test can encourage you to get help and feel better. Some people find it helpful to better understand the science behind what’s going on. It can help you make informed decisions, such as the type of counselor to go to. While PTSD is very common, it’s not necessarily a speciality among the majority of counselors in a given area. So if you have a hint that you may be dealing with PTSD, it might be best to go with a counselor who specializes in this area. I suggest looking for a counselor experienced in trauma and PTSD, who offers an evidence-based therapy such as EMDR or CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy). These two therapies are the most commonly used and effective treatments for active PTSD symptoms.
A PTSD test might point you in a different direction. If you take this type of screen and it comes back as low on all or most of the symptoms, then you might be looking at something other than PTSD. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t still seek help, but you may not need a PTSD specialist. You may instead need someone who treats general anxiety, or a medical issue. In this case, you could start with a primary care physician or a general counselor in your area.
It helps you get ready for help. While you’re waiting to see a mental health provider, you can begin to educate yourself about PTSD and some self-help strategies. However, if you do have to wait, remember that sometimes the depression symptoms of PTSD can lead to self-harm or suicidal thoughts. In this case you shouldn’t wait for an appointment and should seek help right away if you’re having thoughts about harming or killing yourself. Visit the suicide prevention lifeline http://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 800-273-8255.
What Symptoms a PTSD Test Looks For
If you’d like to better understand the symptoms a PTSD test might screen for continue reading below.
Past or recent trauma A first area a PTSD test might look for is if you’ve experienced a trauma—such as a disturbing event that made you feel emotionally or physically unsafe, or that was life threatening in some way. Common traumas a PTSD screen might consider would be sexual assault, combat, accidents, disturbing death of a loved one or otherwise, past childhood abuse, violence, bullying, and more. Any event that shakes your reality, or is disturbing and piles on top of other traumatic events, can be considered traumatic.
Intrusive memories, or reliving the event The next category a PTSD test might look for is if you’re re-experiencing what happened, like having the memories of the trauma pop into your head a lot, or having nightmares or flashbacks. This category of “reliving” the event is what largely separates PTSD from other types of anxiety disorders, like social phobia or general anxiety. If the other symptoms revolve around a specific past event, that’s a clue that it’s about the trauma, and therefore could be related to PTSD, or at least some of the PTSD symptoms.
Avoidance. Avoiding your thoughts or feelings relating to the event, either purposefully or subconsciously, is another symptoms PTSD screens look for. One of the hallmark symptoms of PTSD is somehow avoiding thinking about what happens. This also helps perpetuate the symptoms and can make them worse, because it keeps you from processing and getting “un-stuck” after the trauma. So, this is often what therapies are addressing to help you get better.
Depression. Depression-like symptoms are another key symptom. Many people who have PTSD also have depression symptoms, which typically relate to the trauma directly or indirectly. PTSD tests usually ask about this. Common thoughts or beliefs that come with PTSD might include, “It was my fault,” “It’s hard not to blame myself,” “I should have known better,” or “I should have handled it differently.” Sometimes the thoughts are not about blaming ourselves, but about trusting the world. Examples of these thoughts might include, “No one can be trusted,” or “All men/women are evil.”
Hypervigilance/feeling amped up. The final category a PTSD test might screen for is this feeling of being amped up, super-alert, or on-edge. You know when someone comes up behind you and startles you? Imagine feeling on alert or reacting like this much of the time -- that’s called hypervigilance. This and similar types of hyper-arousal symptoms are screened for when looking for PTSD.
So, in review, there are a few ways a PTST test might be helpful, as well as the symptoms the screens are looking for. A PTSD test, or screen, should never take the place of a more formal screen by a clinician, because there are a lot of complicated factors that can go into a diagnosis. However, it can help educate you about the key symptoms of PTSD, and point you in the right direction to get help.
If you’d like to take our PTST test, go here.
If you’d like a free anxiety management guide that comes with signing up with our mailing list, go here (you also get this when you take the PTSD test).
If you’re interested in in-person or online therapy in Missouri, go here.