The Royal College of Psychiatrists (RcPsych) report on new findings by The Strategy Unit that forecast a tidal wave of new referrals to mental health services due to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The expert modelling by The Strategy Unit has predicted that there will be 230,000 new referrals for PTSD between 2020/21 and 2022/23 either as a direct result of the pandemic, or indirectly.
It is inarguable that the Covid-19 pandemic has increased exposure to potentially traumatising events. While everyone has been exposed to at least some measure of trauma, such as the consistent reporting of death tolls or losing a loved one to Covid, some demographics of people are more likely than others to be experiencing PTSD as a result of the pandemic, these include, frontline health workers, care workers and survivors of severe Covid-19.
A RcPsych survey of 709 intensive care staff across six NHS trusts in England, which took place just after the first wave, found that 40% of staff reported symptoms consistent with a PTSD diagnosis. Surprisingly, this is more than twice the rate found in military veterans who have recently been in combat.
Professor Neil Greenberg, expert editor of a new RcPsych patient resource on PTSD said:
“It’s a common misunderstanding that only people in the armed forces can develop PTSD – anyone exposed to traumatic events is at risk. If left untreated it can ruin the lives of those who suffer from it as well as negatively affect their families.”
Professor Greenberg noted that those who work in healthcare settings have a much higher risk if developing PTSD and emphasised that those people must be “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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Research published this year in the RcPsych journal BJPsych Open also found that one in three (35%) Covid-19 patients who had been ill enough to be put on a ventilator then go on to experience severe PTSD symptoms.
Dee, 52, from Bristol spoke to RcPsych about her experience after being severely ill with Covid-19 last year: “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."
Some of the treatments that could be most effective in treating these people are: trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and some antidepressant medication.
In light of these findings, RcPsych has created new resources on PTSD and traumatic events to raise awareness and encourage people to seek help. You can find those resources here, and here.
I have experienced or witnessed something traumatic.