Covid-19 pandemic likely to cause a surge in PTSD cases

More than 200,000 new cases of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) could be caused as a result of the coronavirus pandemic with NHS staff among those most at risk, estimates suggest.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said 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.

Particular concerns have been raised about frontline health care staff and some Covid-19 patients who needed hospital care.

The college highlighted a poll of 709 intensive care staff across six NHS hospitals in England during the first wave of the pandemic which found that two in five reported symptoms of PTSD – more than twice the rate found in military veterans with recent combat experience, the college said.

It also pointed to research published earlier this year which found that 35 per cent of Covid-19 patients who were put on a ventilator go on to experience extensive symptoms of PTSD.

PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by very stressful, frightening or distressing events. People can experience intense negative emotions, thoughts and memories caused by a traumatic event.

On patient, Dee, a 52-year-old from Bristol, who became severely ill with Covid-19 last year, said: “I experienced severe anxiety about my breathing problems. This included intrusive visions of not being able to breathe and of NHS staff in PPE suits taking me to hospital.

“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. I’m struggling but I’m not confident that I can get the help I need.”

Professor Neil Greenberg, editor of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new resource tool for patients with PTSD, 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.

“However, clearly there are jobs, including working in many healthcare settings, where experiencing traumatic events is more common so the risk of developing PTSD is unfortunately much higher.

“It’s vital that anyone exposed to traumatic events is properly supported at work and home. 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 as a result of this unprecedented crisis.”

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