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PTSD from COVID-19? Here Are Four Signs.

September 17, 2020

The physical stress of infection might end, but COVID-19 patients can carry emotional scars from the experience for months and years, often in the form of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Even once physically recovered, these people may experience lingering effects due to:

  • A fear of dying.
  • Social isolation from the time spent hospitalized or in quarantine.
  • Anxiety at the thought of getting sick again.
  • Guilt over infecting or harming others.

PTSD, long associated with deployed members of the military or those who have endured extreme trauma and violence, is anticipated to be a challenging aftereffects of the lingering pandemic and even trigger a mental health crisis, according to Patricia Rehmer, president of the Behavioral Health Network and vice president of Hartford HealthCare.

Signs that PTSD may be affecting you can include:

  • Overwhelming sadness, fear or anger.
  • Having flashbacks or nightmares.
  • Feeling detached from your life and loved ones.
  • Avoiding memories of the illness.

Chinese researchers polled patients who had been discharged from quarantine facilities and found that 96.2 percent were experiencing symptoms of PTSD. In many cases, the symptoms started before they were even released from quarantine.

The findings mirrored those that emerged from research after the SARS epidemic in Toronto, up to 31 percent of whom reported feeling more depressed and anxious and were more likely to be diagnosed with PTSD.

Age does not seem to be a factor, either. Studies indicate that children might be at higher risk of PTSD during and immediately after a pandemic.

Rehmer emphasized, however, that PTSD is a treatable condition and most people will benefit from medication and/or psychotherapy that can help them understand their traumatic experience and regain control over their symptoms. (If you are having mental health or substance-abuse during COVID-19, call our Community Care Center hotline at 1.833.621.0600.)

Different types of therapy that could help PTSD due to COVID-19 include:

Exposure therapy, which encourages people to face situations and memories that upset them.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people identify and replace any thoughts that prevent them from moving past the trauma.
In the meantime, she said people can take steps on their own to address their mental health needs. This includes:

  • Reaching out to talk to someone, either a professional or a loved one.
  • Taking steps to protect yourself against infection. This includes wearing a mask in public and washing your hands.
  • Generating a sense of personal calmness. Avoid news reports if they trigger anxiety. Exercise or try yoga or deep breathing exercises.
  • Staying connected. Use technology or find creative and socially distant ways to stay in touch with family and friends.