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How can I tell if I have PTSD?

This week in the Coping newsletter: Sometimes people get PTSD when they haven't been through something particularly traumatic. Other times, trauma can lead to very specific symptoms.
Xavier Lalanne-Tauzia

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Welcome to Coping, Episode 20.

Five years ago, I developed PTSD after a freak accident in which my jawbone popped out of its socket while I was yawning, leaving me unable to talk, swallow, or close my mouth. ER doctors were able to reset the bone, and the ordeal lasted no more than an hour. I knew deep down that it wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and yet, in the months that followed, I developed a panic disorder that consumed my life.

Until then, I’d never experienced a panic attack, and at first I didn’t understand what was happening: All I could think, as I stood in a crowded train station with my heart pounding out of my chest, was that my life as I knew it was over and that I was going to die. It was difficult for me to accept that something as everyday—and frankly ridiculous—as dislocating my jaw could result in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and for a long time, I felt too embarrassed to admit how much the incident affected me.


But as it turns out, this reaction is not uncommon, and is especially common for someone whose life was previously stable: It doesn't seem “bad enough” to warrant PTSD, and yet there are the symptoms.

Writer Jessica Furseth delves into the phenomenon of getting PTSD when you've been through something not typically considered traumatic; read more here.

Ask the therapist

Q: How can I tell if I have PTSD?

A: First off, if you’re distressed by symptoms, whether medical or psychological, visit a trained specialist if you can. That way you can get a real diagnosis—and treatment.

But here’s some background on post-traumatic stress disorder to get you thinking: We most often hear about PTSD in combat veterans, but it also can happen to victims of sexual assault, abuse, gang violence, and more. The psychology field’s diagnostic manual (called the DSM-5) explains that PTSD can affect someone after they’re exposed to death (actual or threatened), serious injury, or sexual assault—by either experiencing the event directly, witnessing the event as it occurs, learning of the event that occurred to a friend or family member, or experiencing repeated or extreme exposure to aversive details of a traumatic event (like first responders or police officers might endure). Common symptoms include nightmares, involuntary and intrusive memories of the event, and flashbacks in which you feel as if the event is recurring. Avoidance is also common with those who have PTSD—avoidance of external reminders of the event, such as the place the event occurred, activities associated with the event, and situations that arouse distressing memories that are associated with the event.


There are other symptoms of PTSD, so if the above doesn’t apply to you that doesn’t necessarily rule it out. The treatment plan for someone with PTSD includes a variety of types of treatments that a therapist would administer, like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, EMDR, and Cognitive Processing Therapy. You can find a trained therapist by going to and clicking on Find A Therapist.

Meanwhile, make sure you have a good support system around you. Reach out to family and friends, and consider a support group in your area. Please remember that you are loved and that if things are ever feeling so dire that you don’t see a way out, you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.

This week's answer is from Rachel Aredia, a therapist and ADAA member.

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