PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is a condition that can develop after someone witnesses or lives through a traumatic experience. It is natural to experience some degree of stress and anxiety following a traumatic event. However, for some people, these feelings persist long after the traumatic event and may even get worse with time. This is known as PTSD.
According to medical statistics, PTSD affects nearly 8 million American adults, making it one of the most prevalent mental health conditions in the United States. PTSD can affect anyone, but women are up to 5 times more likely to develop the disorder.
Symptoms usually begin within three months of the event but can sometimes take years to surface. Many people who experience trauma do not develop PTSD. However, certain factors may increase the risk, such as experiencing repeated trauma, having pre-existing mental health conditions, lacking social support, and low-stress tolerance.
Symptoms of PTSD
PTSD symptoms are divided into four main categories:
Intrusive thoughts – Intrusive thoughts are memories, flashbacks, or nightmares about the trauma that can lead to intense distress.
Avoidance – People with PTSD may try to avoid things that remind them of the trauma or events and places that make them feel unsafe.
Negative changes in mood and thinking – PTSD patients may also feel numb or have negative beliefs about themselves, other people, or the world around them.
Changes in physical and emotional reactions – Finally, they may experience hyperarousal, which refers to excessive fear, feeling on edge all the time, or being easily startled.
Is PTSD a Mood Disorder?
PTSD has for many decades been considered an anxiety disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). But starting with the DSM-5, released in 2013, PTSD is classified as a Trauma- and Stressor-Related Disorder. This means that it is considered its own distinct disorder, separate from anxiety and mood disorders.
PTSD and Mood Disorders – The Overlap
Despite its classification as a trauma- and stressor-related disorder, PTSD does share some similarities with mood disorders. A mood disorder is a psychological disorder that causes severe disruptions in a person’s mood, such as major depressive disorder or bipolar disorder.
For instance, it is not uncommon for people with PTSD to experience sadness, guilt, or shame. They may also become easily irritable, have outbursts of anger, or become easily overwhelmed with emotions. All these are symptoms of mood disorders.
This overlap of symptoms between PTSD and mood disorders, and the fact that depression is a common co-occurring condition in PTSD, can sometimes lead to a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of PTSD. It is, therefore, important for mental health practitioners to put into consideration the overlap of symptoms when making a diagnosis.
The Bottom Line
PTSD is a unique condition that should be diagnosed and treated as such. However, some PTSD symptoms tend to mimic mood disorders. This can result in a diagnostic challenge that is made even worse by the fact that depression is a common comorbidity in PTSD.
Nevertheless, with a comprehensive assessment that takes into account the individual’s unique history and symptoms, an accurate diagnosis is possible. This is essential for the development of an effective treatment plan that can address both PTSD and any co-occurring conditions.