How well do you understand PTSD?

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) first appeared in the 3rd edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, published by the American Psychiatric Association, back in 1980 (DSM-III).  The symptoms of PTSD are caused by exposure to specific types of traumatic incidents; however, the vast majority of people who experience trauma do not experience symptoms in a way that would result in a legitimate diagnosis.  “What is a legitimate diagnosis?” you ask.  A legitimate diagnosis is:

  • One that is reached following objective evaluation by a licensed clinician
  • When the precipitating factor is one of the limited kind of traumatic experiences specified in the current edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5
  • When the required number of symptoms from each of 4 categories of symptoms listed in the DSM-5 are present for a period longer than 30 days
  • And when there is significant impairment of function in some area of the individual’s life who is suffering from those symptoms

According to the National Center for PTSD, about 7-8% of adults experiencing a traumatic event will end up with a diagnosis of PTSD, roughly the same percentage of the adult population in the United States that have a diagnosis of depression.  That, in a nutshell, is why we continue to refer to PTSD as a disorder – because even though the majority of people who experience a traumatic event will have some stress-related symptoms for a relatively short period of time afterward, only a relatively small percentage will go on to qualify for a diagnosis of PTSD.

Despite this truth, efforts have intensified over the last decade to remove the “D” from PTSD and simply call it PTS or PTSI (for Post-Traumatic Stress Injury).  There are professionals, like Frank Ochberg, a professor of psychiatry at Michigan State University, who think the only way to reduce the stigma associated with seeking help for PTSD is to change the name and stop calling it a disorder.  There are others, like Bessel van der Kolk, professor of psychiatry at Boston University, who firmly believe that the way to end the stigma is to call it what it is, and confront it head on.

PTSD is more prevalent in the military and among first responders than in the general population.  Studies have shown that the percentage of military veterans and emergency services personnel that meet the diagnostic criteria for PTSD at any given time to be approximately 15%.  There is also a significant stigma associated with that diagnosis, especially for first responders, because many times the department or agency they work for assume that such a diagnosis disqualifies them from doing their job.  Nothing could be further from the truth!  Indeed, personnel are typically able to continue to perform their normal duties while receiving one of the many treatment options available, including:

  • One of several forms of psychotherapy such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Cognitive Processing Therapy, or Prolonged Exposure Therapy
  • One of several different types of medication, including anti-anxiety medications, anti-depressants, and in some cases even anti-seizure medications
  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy

The comments in this article are not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or treatment.  If you are suffering from stress-related symptoms, seek help.  The best way to overcome the stigma is to put your own mental and emotional wellness at the top of the priority list and focus on getting better.  If you’re not sure where to turn, feel free to reach out to us at and we can help point you in the right direction.  If you are struggling with stress-related symptoms or just have questions that you’d like to have answered, it’s time to call for backup.


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