Explosion of PTSD Covid Cases is a Mental Health Crisis in the Making | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett


WAt the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, people working in the field of trauma knew that the psychological toll would be colossal. In the spring of 2020, I began interviewing professionals about the mental health fallout from the pandemic, in particular its impact on frontline medical staff. During the first wave, two in five intensive care staff in England reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This work continued for almost a year, during which time a second wave struck and the initial trauma was exacerbated. But it wasn’t just frontline workers showing symptoms of trauma: Covid has been perhaps the biggest threat to mental health in England since World War II. Today, at the end of 2021, the pandemic is still not over. The NHS predicts that nationwide there will be 230,000 new cases of PTSD as a result of Covid-19.

It is not only social services and medical personnel that will be affected. Those who have lost loved ones and those who have been very ill or hospitalized (35% of Covid-19 patients who have been put on a ventilator have widespread symptoms of PTSD) may also suffer from it. Then there are those living with the effects of domestic and sexual abuse, which may have worsened due to the lockdown, and the children and youth whose lives have changed immeasurably as a result of our transition to the state. emergency. I imagine that some women whose birthing experiences have been marked by the pandemic will also show symptoms.

Unfortunately, the current system is still not fully equipped to deal with this explosion in trauma cases. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says the NHS is already facing the biggest backlog in its history when it comes to people waiting for mental health help. As of September, 1.6 million people were awaiting treatment, and the college says more funds than those committed by the government are desperately needed, including for additional training places in psychiatry. Record numbers of children and young people – almost double pre-pandemic levels in the months leading up to September – are seeking access to mental health services, while a report from Buttle UK warns that a generation of children, especially those with low incomes, face years of trauma and mental health issues from Covid-19.

Although PTSD is still very much associated with veterans in the public mind, there appears to be a broader understanding of the disease and its symptoms than before the pandemic. It wasn’t a mental health issue that made headlines before the pandemic, and media coverage has undoubtedly made people aware of its existence. Bessel van der Kolk’s “trauma bible” The Body Keeps the Score is a regular on bestseller charts, and new books and memoirs are commissioned by publishers. Among younger people, memes and tweets about trauma proliferate, and there seems to be less stigma in talking about what PTSD actually involves, with terms like ‘trigger’ and ‘depersonalization’ or ‘derealization’ being more and more used.

Sadly, some of those words, especially trigger, have also been scooped up as part of a culture war that describes those who experience ‘trigger’ as being hypersensitive. The ignorant response to Labor MP Nadia Whittome who took time off due to post-traumatic stress disorder earlier this year, which included comments that she couldn’t suffer from PTSD because she hadn’t been at war, show how much work remains to be done. ended.

While it is positive to see increased discussion on this issue, more in-depth and empathetic media exposure would be beneficial, including first-hand testimonials about the disorder. What good is knowing the terminology if it is not detached from understanding what it really feels like to have PTSD? So many people I spoke to began to realize that what they had was a real, treatable mental health issue when they read or heard other people’s experiences.

A traumatized person may experience the symptoms of depersonalization – a dreamlike, detached state of being outside of oneself and floating in life at a distance – without realizing that it might have something to do with the traumatic events that it is. she lived. Or they might have horrible nightmares that, on the surface, share little content with what happened to them. Anthologies such as Trauma, which was published by Dodo Ink last year and to which I contributed, show how diverse and multifaceted a PTSD mental health state can be.

As always with mental health, greater awareness can only be a good thing, but it must also be backed by real structural support and change. What good is it if, after finally realizing that her symptoms could be PTSD and effective treatments are available, a patient spends months and months languishing on a waiting list? With PTSD, early assistance is absolutely critical to your chances of recovery, yet the system faces an unprecedented backlog.

The sad part about it is that PTSD is eminently treatable, but the longer the pandemic lasts and the longer people wait, the harder it will become to do so. Volunteer therapists have been used to fill the gaps in services, but they have to make a living. One of the things I have heard the most about in my reporting is how other waves of Covid compounded the initial trauma to lead, for some, to complex or type two PTSD. This is generally the case with veterans and victims of child abuse – people who have been exposed to repeated and sustained trauma. It is more difficult to treat and has poorer results.

The explosion of post-traumatic stress disorder is a medical emergency and additional strain on our squeaky services. Without the right action and investment, this is a national mental health crisis in the making.


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