Detecting PTSD in a traumatically injured population: The diagnostic utility of the PTSD Checklist for DSM-5

Timothy J. Geier, Joshua C. Hunt, Lindsay D. Nelson, Karen Brasel, Terri A. deRoon-Cassini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

1 Scopus citations


Background: The posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) Checklist for DSM-5 (PCL-5) is among few validated measures of PTSD severity in line with the DSM-5. Validation efforts among veteran samples have recommended cut scores of 33 and 38 to indicate PTSD; cut scores vary across populations depending on factors such as trauma type. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the diagnostic utility of and identify optimal cut scores for the PCL-5 in relation to the gold standard Clinician-Administered PTSD Scale for DSM-5 (CAPS-5) among traumatically injured individuals 6 months after discharge from a level I trauma center. Methods: A total of 251 participants completed the PCL-5 and CAPS-5 6 months after discharge from a level I trauma center following traumatic injury. Receiver operating characteristic curve analyses detailed diagnostic accuracy of the PCL-5 and identified the optimal cut score via Youden's J index. Cut scores were also broken down by intentional versus nonintentional injury. Results: The PCL-5 produces satisfactory diagnostic accuracy, with adequate sensitivity and specificity, in a traumatically injured population. Estimates indicate the optimal cut score as >30; the optimal cut score for intentional injuries was >34 and >22 for nonintentional injuries. Conclusions: This investigation provides support for the PCL-5 in detection of PTSD among injured individuals 6 months after discharge from a level I trauma center. PCL-5 specificity and sensitivity suggest clinicians working with this population can feel confident in using this measure over more onerous structured interviews (e.g., CAPS-5). This study signifies a move toward ensuring those experiencing mental health difficulties after traumatic injury are identified and connected to resources.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-178
Number of pages9
JournalDepression and Anxiety
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Feb 1 2019



  • assessment/diagnosis
  • health services
  • measurement/psychometrics
  • PTSD/posttraumatic stress disorder
  • trauma

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Psychology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health

Cite this