Updated: Sep 1
This informal self-assessment can help you learn more about PTSD symptoms and find resources to get better.
A PTSD test can help you understand your symptoms better and make an informed decision about treatment. It shouldn’t replace a diagnosis or prevent you from getting a professional assessment.
Here’s more that may be helpful to know about online PTSD tests and quizzes, such as how they work and what they’re measuring, along with potential privacy and ethical concerns. If you’re ready to skip ahead and want to just take the test, go here.
Are Online PTSD Tests Safe?
Unlike taking a screen in a medical or therapy office, PTSD tests online aren’t formal medical documents. They can’t determine for sure if you do or don’t have symptoms. Certain PTSD symptoms are fairly straightforward, while others can overlap or be confused with other conditions. Even experienced therapists sometimes get this wrong.
For this reason, don’t put 100% confidence in the result of any online mental health quiz. Consider them a snapshot, and one piece of evidence that may be contradicted or supported by follow-up, professional screening.
That being said, not all therapists have advanced training in trauma, PTSD, or all related health conditions. For this reason, a well-developed PTSD screening, even online, can help you get valuable information that many therapists might be unfamiliar with.
Such screens can also be personally validating. For example, if you’re experiencing hypervigilance, seeing it outlined in a screening question might make you feel less alone. On the other hand, some people might feel shame at the idea of being diagnosed with PTSD.
If that’s the case for you, get all of the information you can, so that you can better understand this very common disorder. Being diagnosed isn’t a permanent sentence -- many people get better, especially with the right help. You’re already starting that process now, so you’re off to a great start!
Privacy and Online Tests
In some cases, those collecting quiz or test data do have access to specific answers from your test. That information can be used to provide specific education, or market premium educational products to you. By taking an online quiz or test and sharing your contact information, you are consenting to provide such details.
With this informal PTSD test I designed, I don’t share any specific data from your questions. I don’t sell information or use it for any research purposes. However, information is still being shared online, and not as part of a medical record. I can’t guarantee that it won’t be accessed on your local computer, or those attempting to steal data online. Use your best judgment, and if this concern bothers you, don’t share any information online.
There are also sites offering tests that use your responses as a part of research data. In that case, they will usually prompt you to consent to participate in their research. Such consent is ethically required in research.
Are Online PTSD Screens Accurate?
You may be surprised how often online mental health quizzes do get it right. However, they also get it wrong. This is because self-response screens are only a starting point in diagnosis.
When I start therapy with a new client, I have them complete more extensive screens for a variety of conditions. But even when I have multiple screens, and sometimes even after an interview, I don’t always have an official diagnosis nailed down yet. Sometimes this can take a few sessions to get a better sense of what’s going on.
What if I Get a High Score?
It can be understandably overwhelming and concerning to get a high score on a mental health screen. However, you should know that PTSD has specific, proven treatments that can help you get better. The idea that it’s not treatable or that you’ll have to manage it forever is simply false. So, you don’t need to panic if you get a high score. Details on finding help are outlined below.
How an Online Screen Can Help
Should you make use of a PTSD test or screen? Here are some pros to taking a PTSD test.
Simply taking a PTSD test can help you understand symptoms. The tests are typically asking direct questions that relate to each of the symptom categories from the DSM. So, often people with high PTSD 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. If you have PTSD, it comes with a handful of miserable, but often predictable, symptoms. While your trauma and the way you experience it may be unique, the broad strokes are not unlike what millions of others are also experiencing. So it can both normalize your experience, while educating you about common symptoms.
A Test Can Encourage You to Get Help
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 specialty 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 evidence-based therapies such as EMDR or CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy).
These two therapies are the most commonly used and effective treatments for active PTSD symptoms in adults. Ask the therapist questions about what approach they use, how much experience they have, and how long it usually takes people to get better. With straightforward symptoms, think months rather than years.
An Online Screen Can Point You in the Right Direction
If you take an online 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.
What a PTSD Test Screens For
Certain PTSD screening questions target symptoms that are rarely found with other common disorders. For example, flashbacks or intrusive memories of a specific trauma are typically, if not always, unique to PTSD.
Other symptoms, such as high anxiety and hypervigilance, could be a part of PTSD, but could also suggest another disorder. Examples include social phobia or panic disorder. An experienced professional will consider all of these and rule out other possible conditions.
This overlap of symptoms can make things complicated. An accurate screening will look for both PTSD-specific and overlapping symptoms. Here's a specific list of what most are looking for.
1. A past trauma that relates to current symptoms.
First, a screen confirms that 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. However, the presence of a trauma plus anxiety does not always equal PTSD. It’s common to have past trauma, current anxiety, but not PTSD. The symptoms today must be connected to the trauma directly.
2. Re-experiencing or intrusive memories.
The next category a PTSD test might look for is 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.
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.
Common thoughts or beliefs that come with PTSD might include, “It was my fault,” “It’s hard not to blame myself,” or “I should have known better ...”
4. Depression-like symptoms relating to the trauma.
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.”
5. Feeling on edge.
Another 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.
6. A negative life impact.
For almost any mental health disorder to be diagnosed, it must be apparent that the symptoms are interfering with your life. This may be during work, relationships, or recreational life. In the case of PTSD, there’s typically some negative impact on everyday life, from mild to extreme.
If you learn from a PTSD test that your symptoms are high, there are a few steps I would recommend. These include ensuring your safety, finding professional support, and educating yourself about this condition.
Here’s a closer look at each recommendation.
Ensure your safety. If you’re experiencing immediate concerns such as self harm urges, suicidal thoughts, or serious health conditions, seek help right away. Talk to your doctor, or visit the suicide prevention hotline.
Find professional support for PTSD. Contact SAMSHA to find a trained specialist in your area. You can also find a therapist through your insurance network, or on online listings such as Open Path Network. When choosing a therapist, ask about their experience with PTSD. Therapies including EMDR and cognitive processing therapy (CPT) are shown to be the most effective for addressing symptoms.
Access online resources and education. The more you know and understand about PTSD, the more you’ll be able to make informed decisions about treatment. Some tools can help you start to manage symptoms and prepare for therapy. I offer a specific toolkit called Peace from PTSD. This can help you learn more about your symptoms, why PTSD occurs, and how you can get better. Check out the kit here.
Remember an online screen should never take the place of a more formal diagnosis by a clinician, because there are a lot of complicated factors that can go into a diagnosis. However, a PTSD test can help educate you about the key symptoms of PTSD, and point you in the right direction to get help.
Jennie Lannette, LCSW, is a licensed, practicing therapist in Missouri, specializing in trauma, anxiety, and related mental health issues.