As defined by the American Psychiatric Association, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that develops after an individual experiences or is exposed to a traumatic event. Examples of such events include the threat of death, serious injury, violence or abuse. Though many individuals with PTSD experienced the event directly, witnessing trauma, especially when it occurs to a close friend or a family member, can also lead to a diagnosis of PTSD.
Symptoms of PTSD most often occur within three months of the trauma but, in some cases, may take years to develop.
Symptoms of PTSD include:
- Intrusive thoughts: flashbacks, distress when exposed to symbols of the trauma, recurrent and involuntary memories, nightmares.
- Avoidance of stimuli associated with the event: avoiding the place where the event occurred, avoiding thoughts and feelings associated with the event.
- A significant mood change experienced after the event: detachment from others, blaming oneself for what happened, persistent negative emotional state, decreased interest in significant activities.
- A shift in reactivity associated with the event: increased irritability, hypervigilance, sleep disturbance, exaggerated startle response, problems with memory or concentration.
In order to meet the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, you must experience symptoms from all of the above categories for more than one month. The above symptoms must also cause a significant disturbance or impairment in social, occupational, or other areas of daily functioning. Individuals with PTSD are also often diagnosed with other mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression.
Social Security includes symptoms of PTSD in the Social Security Listings of Impairments for Mental Disorders. For PTSD in particular, anxiety symptoms are essential in determining how PTSD impacts your ability to work. It is very important that you have your condition diagnosed by a qualified medical practitioner and that the symptoms are severe enough to keep you from working in order for you to have a good chance of receiving benefits. Due to the lack of medical tests to confirm the existence of mental illnesses, it is vital that you see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can confirm your diagnosis and support your application for benefits.
(Source: the 5th Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders? DSM-V by the American Psychiatric Association)
Improving Your Chances for Obtaining Social Security Benefits
It’s particularly important to see a psychologist or psychiatrist who can document the progression of your illness because this can sometimes be the only official record of your PTSD. If you live with or frequently see family members or friends, ask them to document your behavior over time as well. Since severity is the key to determining whether or not your PTSD disorder qualifies you for benefits, tracking the frequency and nature of your symptoms can help your case.
- Keep a detailed journal, including a calendar of notes about how you feel each day.
- Record any unusual activities you could not do on any given day.
- Keep a detailed history of your current and past medications, as well as any side effects that you experience.
- See a health care professional regularly and take the medication that he/she gives you so that he/she can support your application for benefits.
- Ask your doctor or other health care professional to track the course of your symptoms and to keep a record of any evidence of fatigue, irritability, forgetfulness, unusual behavior, or other hard-to-document symptoms.
- Keep records of how your illness affected you on the job.