As part of PTSD Awareness Month, the Department of Veterans Affairs offers the following Trauma Symptom Checklist to help people identify possible PTSD symptoms. You can also take a look at a similar list on my website, Warning Signs of Trauma -Related Stress.
Please keep in mind that a checklist is not a substitute for a clinical assessment by a trauma-informed therapist. No checklist can capture all the ways people are impacted by trauma. Not everyone experiences PTSD in the same way; research suggests some experience a dissociative subtype of PTSD. Some childhood abuse survivors experience complex PTSD. Bottom line: if your life is disrupted by a traumatic event (or events), you deserve help and it is available.
That being said, here is the Department of Veterans Affairs’ Trauma Symptom Checklist:
Check the symptoms below that you experience. Include symptoms you have even if you are not sure they are related to a traumatic event.
I experienced or witnessed a traumatic event during which I felt extreme fear, helplessness, or horror.
The event happened on (day/month/year) _______________.
What happened? ________________________________________.
- I have symptoms of re-experiencing or reliving the traumatic event:
- Have bad dreams or nightmares about the event or something similar to it
- Behave or feel as if the event were happening all over again (this is known as having flashbacks)
- Have a lot of strong or intense feelings when I am reminded of the event
- Have a lot of physical sensations when I am reminded of the event (for example, my heart races or pounds, I sweat, find it hard to breathe, feel faint, feel like I’m going to lose control)
- I have symptoms of avoiding reminders of the traumatic event:
- Avoid thoughts, feelings, or talking about things that remind me of the event
- Avoid people, places, or activities that remind me of the event
- Have trouble remembering some important part of the event
- I have noticed these symptoms since the event happened:
- Have lost interest in, or just don’t do, things that used to be important to me
- Feel detached from people; find it hard to trust people
- Feel emotionally “numb” or find it hard to have loving feelings even toward those who are emotionally close to me
- Have a hard time falling or staying asleep
- Am irritable and have problems with my anger
- Have a hard time focusing or concentrating
- Think I may not live very long and feel there’s no point in planning for the future
- Am jumpy and get startled or surprised easily
- Am always “on guard”
- I experience these medical or emotional problems:
- Stomach problems
- Intestinal (bowel) problems
- Gynecological (female) problems
- Weight gain or loss
- Pain, for example, in back, neck, or pelvic area
- Skin rashes and other skin problems
- Lack of energy; feel tired all the time
- Alcohol, drug, or other substance use problems
- Depression or feeling down
- Anxiety or worry
- Panic attacks
- Other symptoms such as: ______________________________
Do you find these tools useful? Why or why not? Where you surprised by any of the included items? What’s missing?
I like to emphasize that the variety of common psychological and physical symptoms following a traumatic event are normal reactions to abnormal situations. When these symptoms disrupt your life or persist over time, trauma-informed professional help is available.