Why COVID-19 patients may be at risk of PTSD

Key points

  • Studies have observed PTSD symptoms in people quarantined by COVID-19.
  • Social isolation seems to be a major factor.
  • Whether children are infected with COVID-19 or not, their risk of PTSD may be higher.

Long after someone has recovered physically from COVID-19, they may still have some emotional trauma to resolve. After all, being diagnosed with COVID-19 can have a serious impact on an individual’s mental health.

The fear of death, the social isolation experienced by the sick person, and the anxiety associated with the idea of ​​getting sick again are just a few reasons for the decline in someone’s mental health after contracting the coronavirus.

Although it is too early to understand the long-term psychological impact of individuals who test positive for COVID-19, there are some data that indicate that they may be at higher risk of mental health problems, especially post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)) .

Link to post-traumatic stress disorder

Individuals may develop PTSD after traumatic events (such as natural disasters, serious car accidents, or violent personal assaults). Symptoms may include:

  • Nightmare
  • Flashback
  • Disturbing thoughts and feelings related to the event
  • sad
  • Fear
  • anger
  • Feeling of separation or alienation
  • Avoid anything that will evoke memories of traumatic events

Research on COVID-19 survivors and post-traumatic stress disorder

Individuals who survive a life-threatening disease (such as COVID-19) may be at high risk of PTSD. Whether they are on the verge of death or isolated from all human contacts (except for a few medical staff), the pain they experience can cause some people to develop post-traumatic stress disorder.

Chinese researchers have published some early studies on what they have discovered so far. The researchers asked patients discharged from an isolation facility (a temporary hospital built to accommodate, isolate, and treat people who tested positive) to complete a questionnaire about their mental health.

They conducted a PTSD checklist on 714 people and found that 96.2% of the participants experienced PTSD symptoms, which is an alarming proportion. They also found that these people had symptoms before they were released from isolation.

Some of the conditions and factors they experience that may affect their mental health include:

  • Social isolation
  • Perceived danger
  • uncertain
  • Physical discomfort
  • Drug side effects
  • Fear of spreading the virus to others
  • Negative news about the epidemic

These factors cause most people to experience emotional disorders, including:

  • Lonely
  • anger
  • anxiety
  • Frustrated
  • Insomnia

No research has been published on people infected with the virus who have not been hospitalized, but it is very likely that even those who are isolated in their own homes (or those who are fairly asymptomatic) may still face a higher risk of infection with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Post-traumatic stress disorder and other epidemics

It is not surprising that people diagnosed with COVID-19 are at risk for PTSD. Studies of other epidemics have revealed similar results.

Studies of people diagnosed with SARS indicate that survivors are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Individuals who tested positive for SARS are quarantined (as in the case of COVID-19). Social isolation seems to be the main factor in their mental health symptoms.

A study published in 2004 Emerging infectious diseases The psychological effects of individuals quarantined in Toronto, Canada during the SARS outbreak were studied. Researchers found that 29% of people showed PTSD and 31% showed symptoms of depression.

A longer isolation period is associated with an increase in the prevalence of PTSD symptoms. People who have been in contact with someone diagnosed with SARS are also at higher risk of depression and PTSD.

Studies have shown that children may also be at higher risk of PTSD during and after a pandemic. A 2013 study investigated the impact of isolation on the mental health of children and their parents. Researchers found that 30% of isolated or isolated children and about 25% of parents meet the criteria for PTSD.

The good news is that many of them experienced relief soon after they recovered. A study published in 2005 Emerging infectious diseases It was found that “1 to 3 months after discharge, the severity of symptoms decreased significantly.”

Post-traumatic stress disorder treatment

Fortunately, PTSD is treatable. Primary treatment usually includes psychotherapy. Treatment can help people understand their experiences and better control their symptoms.

There are several types of therapies that may be effective in treating patients with PTSD related to COVID-19:

  • Exposure therapy: Exposure therapy helps individuals face situations and memories they find disturbing, so try to avoid them. It may be particularly effective for people who have experienced flashbacks and nightmares. Some therapists use virtual reality programs to allow patients to safely re-enter their traumatic environment.
  • Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR): EMDR combines exposure therapy with guided eye movement to help individuals process traumatic memories and change their response to them.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps individuals identify and replace thoughts and behaviors that put them in trouble. It can be used in combination with exposure therapy.

In some cases, medications can also be used in combination with talk therapy. There is no specific medicine that can solve PTSD, but some medicines can suppress certain symptoms.

Antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs are usually prescribed for people with PTSD. Prazosin can also be used to reduce nightmares.

Many therapists and psychiatrists provide online treatment. Therefore, people at risk of PTSD (or people who think they may have symptoms) do not have to wait until the social distancing rules are relaxed. You can receive talk therapy or get a prescription from an online provider.

What this means to you

Not everyone who has COVID-19 or a loved one who has the virus will develop PTSD. The person who develops it is not necessarily weak or defective; there are many factors that affect whether someone has the disease.

If you are infected with COVID-19 and have been fighting the stress caused by it, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. The sooner you seek treatment, the sooner you can work to relieve symptoms and improve mental health.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means that you may receive updated information while reading this article. For the latest updates on COVID-19, please visit our Coronavirus News page.