The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a huge toll on everyone’s mental health. Social distancing, extended lockdowns, restricted movement and chronic stress due to worrying about your family’s wellbeing could lead to stress and anxiety. But for COVID-19 patients - especially those who suffered through moderate to severe symptoms of the disease, received critical care, and survived - the stress and anxiety are anticipated to be on a different level altogether.
This is the reason why the COVID Trauma Response Working Group - consisting of mental health experts from King’s College London, University College London, Oxford University, Israel’s Haifa University and the UK’s National Health Service - is now recommending that all patients who’ve been admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU) be screened for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Why COVID-19 patients might have PTSD
The report submitted by these experts is based on the evidence gathered from previous epidemics, mass casualty events and critical care settings - all of which suggests that the mental health needs of recovering or recovered patients should also be paid equal attention. This is especially important if the hospital healthcare staff focuses solely on the physical recovery of the patients and fails to take psychological needs into account.
The experts suggest that in general, 40% of patients who have been discharged from an ICU tend to suffer from anxiety, 30% show symptoms of depression and about 20% have symptoms of PTSD. It must also be noted that the psychological impact on such patients is not always immediate, which makes follow-up counselling as important as screening before discharge.
Why PTSD should not be ignored
The reason why these and other mental health experts are highlighting the need to screen for PTSD among other mental health issues is that this disorder can have highly debilitating effects, as particularly seen in soldiers returning from frontlines and trying to adjust back to society. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, PTSD develops when you have lived through a traumatic experience and it’s triggered when a person’s “fight-or-flight” response is generated.
For example, if a discharged COVID-19 patient is sitting in a vehicle or closed room with someone who has symptoms similar to their own COVID-19 symptoms, it could trigger a response of intense anxiety and fear. This is the reason why the family and loved ones of discharged COVID-19 patients must keep an eye out for the common symptoms of PTSD. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, if a recovering or recovered patient shows two or more of the following symptoms, you should reach out to a mental health professional immediately:
- Inability to remember important aspects of a traumatic event, especially if there was no head trauma involved
- Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs about self, others and the world
- Persistent and distorted blame on self or others for causing said traumatic event
- Persistent fear, horror, shame, anger or guilt
- Feelings of detachment, estrangement and diminished interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Persistent inability to experience positive emotions
- Irritable or aggressive behaviour
- Reckless or self-destructive behaviour
- Hypervigilance and exaggerated startle response
- Problems with concentration
- Difficulty falling and staying asleep
For more information, read our article on How to protect your mental health during COVID-19 pandemic.
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