Is post-traumatic stress disorder a consequence of Covid-19? It’s time to find out

Covid-19 has really thrown our lives off track in more ways than one. The palpable stress and anxiety are giving rise to post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Read on to know more
covid-19 and PTSD
PTSD has become a common occurrence post-covid-19. Image courtesy: Shutterstock
Dr Satish Kumar CR Published: 29 Jul 2021, 09:30 am IST
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Covid-19 has become a global health emergency, posing not only physical but also psychological risks to those who are exposed to sudden deaths or threats of death. For example, healthcare workers who are in close contact with covid-19 patients are not only exposed to the virus on a regular basis, but may also be witnessing increased illnesses, deaths, and supply shortages. Moreover, covid-19 patients who are admitted to the hospital also endure social isolation, physical discomfort, and dread of dying. As a result, post traumatic stress disorder or PTSD is more prone to develop.

Not every person who has been hospitalised for covid-19 in the past is susceptible to PTSD. Both the patient as well as the caregiver are particularly sensitive to developing PTSD, especially because they were unable to find ICU, hospital beds, breathing devices or relevant medications required in the time of need. 

On the other hand, war veterans, children, and those who have been in an accident, disaster, or other similar traumatic situations, such as physical or sexual abuse, are more prone to develop PTSD. The sudden and unexpected death of a loved one as well as incidents involving a threat to life, injury, or sexual violence, are all common triggers and cues for developing PTSD. Medical events and procedures involving a life-threatening situation are connected with relatively high rates of PTSD development, even when they are successful.

Also, read: There’s a link between what we eat and PTSD episodes, according to researchers

When do the symptoms appear?

Clinical symptoms usually appear after a few weeks of the stressful event, but they can appear months or years afterwards. People between the ages of 25 and 45 are particularly susceptible to PTSD. They are the ones who look after their families and provide health securities. People in the covid-19 era are shown scrounging for oxygen beds, quarantine establishments, and other necessities. If a person is unable to organise medical assistance for his or her loved ones, this can also lead to feelings of guilt.

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“Are you experiencing symptoms or have been through a traumatic event? For it to become PTSD, you must have a variety of symptoms for more than a month. It’s possible that your symptoms are panic or anxiety, if they last shorter than a month. I’ve been treating two patients suffering from PTSD. Both are aged between 32-34 and have lost their fathers to covid-19. They consulted me one and a half months after the incident took place,” says Dr Satish Kumar CR.

Also, read: From warning signs to treatment, here’s everything you need to know about PTSD

Symptoms of PTSD include:
  1. Experiencing repeated and intrusive trauma memories
  2. Increased heart rate
  3. Sweating
  4. Trauma-related nightmares or flashbacks
  5. Feelings of guilt, anger, or shame
  6. Lack of enthusiasm for previously pleasurable activities
  7. Inability to sleep
  8. Feeling anxious or violent

The affected person relives the event through flashbacks, nightmares, and negative emotional states, which is a key component of PTSD. Reminders of the event, such as words, objects, or settings, might cause a bout of extreme anxiety, and the person may re-experience the symptoms associated with the index traumatic event. Flashbacks might be triggered by anything even remotely related to the incident.

A national study conducted by Manipal, which is under publication, revealed that doctors showed more secondary traumatic stress than nurses. What’s more, female doctors showed more secondary traumatic stress than male doctors. 

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How to cope with PTSD?
  1. Psychiatric medications (antidepressants)
  2. Cognitive-behavioural psychotherapy (emotional processing)
  3. Prolonged exposure therapy
  4. Eye-movement desensitization and reprogramming (EMDR) 
  5. Cognitive processing therapy (CPT-C)
  6. Talking to people
  7. Mindfulness-based therapies  
  8. Developing new hobbies
covid-19 and PTSD
Physically recovering from covid-19 isn’t enough. You have to battle its mental health implications too. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

It is recommended that you see a doctor or a psychiatrist as soon as possible, because PTSD can continue for decades, if left untreated. People with PTSD do not recover easily and in some circumstances, the disorder is persistent and insidious, worsening rather than improving over time. PTSD is linked to significant distress and disruption of social and occupational functioning, which can lead to serious problems in relationships and at work.

It is advised that a patient suffering from PTSD should take up these three activities for faster recovery:

  1. Happiness activities
  2. Meaningful activities like yoga, spiritual activities, helping people at home and work
  3. Goal-directed activities 

The outbreak of covid-19 has given rise to several potential sources of trauma that could contribute to or worsen PTSD. Physical separation and other forms of restraint can also make treatment more difficult for some people. Self-help methods may be beneficial to those with PTSD. It’s also crucial to have social support systems in place.

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About the Author

Dr Satish Kumar CR, Consultant- Clinical Psychology, Manipal Hospitals, Old Airport Road ...Read More

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