Over 200,000 PTSD cases could be triggered due to pandemic, experts warn

Health staff and Covid-19 patients who required intensive care may be at higher risk of developing the disorder

Kate Ng
Friday 03 December 2021 06:00

There may be more than 200,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) triggered by the Covid-19 pandemic, new data suggests.

Experts have warned that frontline health workers and Covid-19 patients who needed intensive care in hospital may be at higher risk of developing the anxiety disorder.

According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP), new estimates by the NHS Strategy Unit suggest there could be 230,000 new referrals for PTSD between 2020/21 and 2022/23 in England.

A poll cited by the college, of 709 intensive care staff from six NHS hospitals in England who worked during the first wave of the pandemic, revealed that two in five workers reported symptoms of PTSD.

This was more than double the rate found in military veterans with recent combat experience, said the RCP.

The college also pointed to a study that found 35 per cent of Covid-19 patients who were put on a ventilator go on to experience extensive symptoms of PTSD. The research was published in the journal BJPsych Open earlier this year.

In November, the RCP published an extensive resource tool for patients experiencing PTSD or anyone who knows someone who is, which details what the condition is, what could cause it, and what kind of treatments are available.

Professor Neil Greenberg, expert editor of the resource tool, said: “It’s a common misunderstanding that only people in the armed forces can develop PTSD – anyone exposed to a traumatic event is at risk.

“If left untreated it can ruin the lives of those who suffer from it as well as negatively affect their families, friends and colleagues.”

Prof Greenberg stressed that there are certain jobs that have a higher risk of developing PTSD because “experiencing traumatic events is more common”, such as roles in healthcare settings.

“It’s vital that anyone exposed to traumatic events is properly supported at work and home,” he added.

“Early and effective support can reduce the likelihood of PTSD and those affected should be able to access evidence-based treatment in a timely manner. Especially our NHS staff who are at increased risk because of this unprecedented crisis.”

People who have PTSD can experience intense negative emotions, thought and memories that were caused by a traumatic event, which can be very stressful, frightening and distressing.

One patient, 52-year-old Dee from Bristol, became severely ill with Covid-19 last year and said she experienced “severe anxiety” due to the breathing problems that lingered.

“This included intrusive visions of not being able to breathe and of NHS staff in PPE suits taking me to hospital,” she said.

“My sleep was badly affected and I started using alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“I have since tested positive for Covid-19 a second time, which has been extremely traumatising,” Dee added. “I’m struggling but I’m not confident that I can get the help I need.”

You can find out more about PTSD and the symptoms here. For confidential support with mental health or suicidal feelings, you can contact The Samaritans on their free, 24-hour phone support by calling 116 123 or emailing jo@samaritans.org.

Additional reporting by PA

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