Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a debilitating mental health condition. It is a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to persistently re-experience traumatic events. People with PTSD display avoidance behaviors and negative alterations in cognition, mood and arousal.
PTSD screening follows the criteria laid out in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5). Between clinical assessment tools, self-report measuring and online screening methods, there are many tools to help with PTSD screening.
Table of Contents
Clinical Assessment Tools
As PTSD screening tools, clinical assessments are an important aspect of acquiring a PTSD diagnosis. These assessments include:
- The Primary Care PTSD Screen for DSM-5 (PC-PTSD-5):
This process is a five-item yes/no questionnaire designed for use in primary care settings. It assesses if an individual has experienced a traumatic event in their life and is the first step to identifying if someone has PTSD.
- PTSD Structured Clinical Interview (SCID):
This questionnaire is designed to be administered by a trained mental health professional. The SCID is not scored on a numeric scale like many other questionnaires. Instead, diagnostic symptoms are coded as present, subthreshold or absent. Depending on the interviewee’s personal history, the SCID can take 15 minutes to several hours. Research suggests that this diagnostic tool is highly reliable.
- Trauma Screening Questionnaire:
This is a 10-item questionnaire of yes/no responses about reactions to a traumatic event. One study showed that this tool can be used one to three weeks after an assault to help identify people who will develop PTSD. It is also used to identify PTSD in survivors of other types of trauma as well.
A self-report screening is one way to go about PTSD self-assessment. These types of screenings do not require a clinician. Self-report measures include:
- Davidson Trauma Scale (DTS):
This self-report questionnaire measures the frequency and severity of PTSD symptoms in three domains: intrusion, avoidance, and hyperarousal. This questionnaire consists of 17 questions that are answered on a 0–4 scale. The DTS self-rating scale is shown to be just as effective as some clinical assessment tools.
- Short PTSD Rating Interview (SPRINT):
This is another self-report questionnaire. The SPRINT PTSD scale consists of eight items that assess the core symptoms of PTSD. Research supports the use of this questionnaire as an assessment and referral tool in situations where a more clinical assessment is not feasible.
Online Screening Tools
The first step in PTSD assessment can also come from an online PTSD screening. This type of assessment may be critical if mental health services are not readily available. These online tools can be found through resources such as the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). These screenings are typically based on other questionnaires, such as the Primary Care PTSD Screen.
Know When to Seek Professional Help
While an online tool or self-assessment at home can be a useful first step, it is important to recognize when it is time to seek professional help. Changes in behavior or mood following a stressful event may be one sign that professional help is needed.
American Psychiatric Association. “Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders: DSM-5™ (5th ed.).” 2013. Accessed September 27, 2019.
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for PTSD. “Primary Care PTSD Screen for DSM-5 (PC-PTSD-5).” Updated September 26, 2019. Accessed October 11, 2019.
Segal, Daniel; Hersen, Michel; Van Hasselt, Vincent. “Reliability of the Structured Clinical Interview for DSM-III-R: an evaluative review.” Comprehensive psychiatry, 1994. Accessed September 27, 2019.
Walters, James; Bisson, Jonathan; Shepherd, Jonathan. “Predicting post-traumatic stress disorder: validation of the Trauma Screening Questionnaire in victims of assault.” Psychological medicine, 2007. Accessed September 27, 2019.
Davidson, Jonathan; Tharwani, Haresh; Connor, Kathryn. “Davidson Trauma Scale (DTS): Normative scores in the general population and effect sizes in placebo‐controlled SSRI trials.” Depression and Anxiety, 2002. Accessed September 27, 2019.
Norris, Fran; et al. “Validation of the Short Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Rating Interview (expanded version, Sprint-E) as a measure of postdisaster distress and treatment need.” American Journal of Disaster Medicine, 2008. Accessed September 27, 2019.
SAMHSA-HRSA Center for Integrated Health Services. “Screening Tools.” Accessed September 27, 2019.
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