Is PTSD Neurodivergent?

PTSD is a mental health condition that can develop after a traumatic event. The type of event that can be considered traumatic could be life-threatening situations, like a car accident or natural disaster, or a physical threat of harm like sexual assault or combat.

Although trauma symptoms, such as reliving the event in memories, feeling on edge or anxious, and having nightmares or trouble sleeping, are normal after a traumatic event, if you experience symptoms for more than one month, it may be PTSD.

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PTSD diagnosis

A mental health professional may diagnose you with PTSD if you display some of the above symptoms for longer than one month. The mental health professional will likely use the clinician-administered PTSD scale for the DSM-5¹ (CAPS-5) test. This assessment consists of 30 questions that can be used to diagnose PTSD in patients.

Questions will address the symptoms of PTSD, how long they have been happening, and the impact on your quality of life.

Notably, for a PTSD diagnosis, there has to be a traumatic event identified that led to the symptoms.

Some sample questions from the CAPS-5 include: “In the past month, have you had any unwanted memories of (EVENT) while you were awake, so not counting dreams?”

These questions will give a clinician the ability to rank your PTSD into categories, including absent (no PTSD), mild (not clinically significant severity), moderate (a PTSD diagnosis showing a clinically significant mental health issue), severe (a problem that is difficult to manage and requires intervention), or extreme (a dramatic symptom, far above the usual threshold that needs a high-priority intervention).

Neurodivergence and mental health

Neurodivergence is simply the processing of information differently from the norms of a particular culture.

Neurodivergence has come up recently because it describes the thought processes of diagnoses like autism spectrum disorder without causing offense by framing it as a problem.

If you are neurodivergent, you are not in the minority. Up to 30-40% of the population is neurodivergent. Neurodivergent people might include those with ADHD, learning disabilities, autism, Tourette syndrome, or synesthesia.

The neurodivergent movement seeks to destigmatize neurodivergent people and help them cope in a world that focuses on the neurotypical (people who process information in the “normal” way).

Some people would consider mental health conditions a part of neurodivergence because mental health disorders can change how someone thinks, particularly how someone processes information.

The difference is that mental health conditions can negatively affect the quality of life even without a support network, whereas neurodivergence is a perceived cultural difference. Therefore, with a supportive environment, neurodivergence can cease to cause any issues.

However, for PTSD, a large component of the treatment is maintaining a support network. In addition, the effects of PTSD, such as being uncomfortable in crowds, having difficulty completing everyday tasks, experiencing depression or anxiety, or having triggers for a resurgence of unpleasant memories leading to a breakdown, sound very similar to some neurodivergent conditions like autism.

The discomfort felt by people with PTSD is very similar to the discomfort that causes neurodivergent autistic people to mask (to pretend to be neurotypical to “pass” in the world). So, as neurodivergence doesn’t have a set definition, it could be argued that a mental health condition like PTSD could be included in neurodivergence.

Neurodivergence, PTSD, and war

Because a traumatic event causes PTSD, it’s easy to see how it has become more common in parts of the world where war occurs. The effect on civilian populations goes beyond physical harm; the mental toll it takes often results in PTSD.

What may not be obvious is the parallel between neurodivergence and PTSD after a traumatic event such as war. For someone to be diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, they must display deficits in social communication and social interactions and have restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior.

People who have been exposed to wartime and live with PTSD may also have difficulty interacting with people, particularly those who haven’t experienced the same difficulties as you have.

In addition, you may also have routines that help keep you safe in wartime that you are reluctant to give up on, such as obsessively checking on family members or hoarding food and other essentials.

How to help someone with PTSD

If you think you have PTSD, social support can help. Those with PTSD often feel isolated from their peers, leading to self-harm or suicidal thoughts.

It’s important to recognize that it’s not your fault that the traumatic event you experienced has led you to develop PTSD. It’s not a sign of weakness; instead, it’s how your mind and body respond to trauma. People with neurodivergent characteristics, such as PTSD symptoms, can survive and recover.

Possible protective factors against suicide include social support.² Reaching out to a group of neurodivergent people might offer a chance for social support from people who have experienced the same concerns that you have.

By reaching out to these people, you can start interacting with and opening up to others with similar experiences. You will eventually be able to feel more like yourself. You may feel like there is no escape from your symptoms, but it is important to know that recovery is possible.

The lowdown

There are many similarities between PTSD and some neurodivergent conditions regarding the physical symptoms, feelings of isolation, and social stigma associated with the diagnosis. Both neurodivergent people and those with PTSD need to be connected to their communities and establish social interactions to help them cope after diagnosis.

Although both PTSD and neurodivergent people are at a higher risk of suicide, with appropriate support, recovery is possible. A support network is essential for recovery from PTSD, and providing neurodivergent support systems for people with PTSD might lead to novel solutions to the symptoms they struggle with.

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Have you considered clinical trials for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

Do you want to know if there are any Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) clinical trials you might be eligible for?
Have you taken medication for Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?
Have you been diagnosed with Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

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