Introduction: The ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a globally significant crisis with a rapid spread worldwide, high rates of illness and mortality, a high degree of uncertainty, and a disruption of daily life across the sociodemographic spectrum. The clinically relevant psychological consequences of this catastrophe will be long-lasting and far-reaching. There is an emerging body of empirical literature related to the mental health aspects of this pandemic and this body will likely expand exponentially. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of a historic catastrophe from which we can learn much and from which the field will need to archive, interpret, and synthesize a multitude of clinical and research observations.
Methods: In this commentary, we discuss situations and contexts in which a diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may or may not apply within the context of diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) criteria.
Results: Our consensus is that a COVID-related event cannot be considered traumatic unless key aspects of DSM-5's PTSD Criterion A have been established for a specific type of COVID-19 event (e.g., acute, life-threatening, and catastrophic).
Conclusion: The application of a more liberal interpretation of Criterion A will dilute the PTSD diagnosis, increase heterogeneity, confound case-control research, and create an overall sample pool with varying degrees of risk and vulnerability factors.
Keywords: DSM; PTSD phenomenology; anxiety; diagnosis; etiology; peritraumatic reactions.
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