Big Changes for Diagnosing PTSD

The effects of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can dismantle the lives of not only those who suffer from this illness, but also those of family and friends. The federal government, the Department of Veteran Affairs, and professionals within the psychiatric field are working diligently to provide alternatives in treatment for victims suffering from PTSD and their families.

From the soldier on the battlefield, to the victim of a violent crime, PTSD knows no ethnic, gender, racial, or social boundaries. This vicious disorder can take a soldier, fighting for the freedom of others, to living homeless on the streets. It can take a loving mother, caring for her family, to the streets of her city, seeking drugs or simply unable to leave her house at all. The uncertainty of child’s future who has suffered from long-term violence remains a threat to a growing society. This disorder affects its victims both physically and mentally, leaving many wondering if there will ever be a time when it will not control its victim’s life.

As men, women, and children across the world struggle to overcome the fall-out of PTSD, nations work to reach a better understanding of its triggers in hopes of treatments that are more successful in managing its affects.  This can only be accomplished through continuous funding of research grants and programs specific to the nature of brain disorders.

People respond to traumatic events differently. The process of “fight or flight” is one that has yet to reveal itself in such a manner as to determine who is likely to fight and who is likely to flee under any given set of circumstances. Studies have revealed that brain functions can be significantly altered when a person is faced with extreme fear, terror, or trauma. It is through discoveries such as this, that many scientists believe that brain mapping may provide greater insight into how PTSD affects its victims.

It was in 1980 that the American Psychiatric Association (APA) first released a classification of PTSD in its third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). Today, the APA’s fifth edition of the DSM, entitled the DSM-5, has been considered long overdue. The highly controversial document was set for release at the 2013 annual APA meeting in mid-May. Evidence suggests that the new DSM-5 contains many revisions for diagnostic criteria requirements within the psychiatric field, including those for PTSD. One of the biggest changes the newly released document holds for the diagnosis and treatment of PTSD is its change in classification from “anxiety disorders” to “trauma and stressor-related disorders.”

This new classification of PTSD in the DSM-5 serves to provide a more defined look at the triggers associated with PTSD. These triggers have been listed to include actual experiences or threat of death, sexual assaults, or serious injury. The individual must have had direct experience to the traumatic event or witnessed the event. Additionally, the individual may have learned of a traumatic event that happened to a close friend or family member or is repeatedly exposed to extreme or violent traumatic events that are not part of any media related encounters. 

In essence, the DSM-5 is centered more on the behavioral symptoms in association with PTSD, expanding the previous three diagnostic clusters to four specific diagnostic clusters. These four diagnostic clusters include avoidance, arousal, re-experiencing, and negative cognitions and moods. Additional changes within the DSM-5 associated with PTSD include two subtypes for PTSD Preschool and PTSD Dissociative.

The proposed Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) initiative supports the concept of brain mapping as a means to diagnose, treat, and possibly reverse the affects of PTSD. Millions of children and adults suffer from the affects of PTSD. Evidence suggests that over seven million adults in the United States suffer from PTSD each year. As these numbers continue to rise, both government and mental health professionals diligently pursue avenues to control this growing epidemic. 

It took decades for the health field to incorporate a diagnostic protocol for PTSD despite evidence that the disorder was affecting a countless number of people. Realizing that PTSD is not a disorder associated only with individuals who have served in the military forces, the opportunity to further develop brain mapping research is critical to serving all individuals suffering from this debilitating disorder.


Kessler, R. (2005). Prevalence, Severity, and Comorbidity of 12-Month DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication Archives of General Psychiatry, 62 (6) DOI: 10.1001/archpsyc.62.6.617

Kupfer, D. (2013). DSM-5—The Future ArrivedDSM-5—The Future Arrived JAMA DOI: 10.1001/jama.2013.2298

American Psychological Association (June 2009). Treatment of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Special Populations: A Cognitive Restructuring Program.

Trimble, M.D. (1985). Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: history of a concept. In trauma and its wake: The study and treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (ed. C.R. Figley), pp. 5-14. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

Image via Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock.

Brenda Walker, MA

Brenda Walker, MA, holds a Master of Arts Degree in Health Care Administration from Ashford University, a Bachelor of Science Degree in Health Care Management from Anthem College, and an Associates in Applied Science, priority focus in Limited Scope X-Ray. She had over 10 years of experience and a member of the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors. Her primary focus, recently, has been on the continued roll-out of the ACA, Medicare, and Strategic Planning and Implementation for small and private health care entities.
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