As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, we see people struggle physically and mentally, as they experience immense psychosocial disruption. It is affecting all aspects of our lives, not only inflicting medical havoc, but also causing an economic downturn. This constant daily stress of uncertainty and lingering fear, coupled with social distancing can cause emotional distress, leading to a rise in psychological decompensation. Recent surveys suggest an increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD among individuals, especially frontline workers, and COVID-19 survivors and their family. People with previous mental health conditions are most vulnerable and at high-risk. A mental health crisis is silently building and will likely cause a significant impact on society for the months and years to come.
HOW CAN COVID-19 PANDEMIC CAUSE PTSD?
PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is a mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or by witnessing it. It doesn’t always occur immediately, taking time, sometimes even up to 6 months, with the gradual development of symptoms.
During these unusual times, mental trauma is building up due to different conditions each person has to deal with, their perception of the present, various environmental factors, and their physical health.
The scars of mental trauma are not always visible, but they continue to erode mental health and well-being.
SYMPTOMS OF PTSD
PTSD can cause significant troubles in work and personal life and lead to a great deal of distress and interference in performing daily tasks.
Symptoms can vary from person to person. PTSD symptoms can be grouped into four types:
- Intrusive memories
Recurring distressing memories and nightmares about the traumatic event
Avoiding people, places, and situations that remind of the negative experience
- Negative changes in thinking and mood
Negative thoughts about life, themselves, and others around them. Experiencing emotional numbness and detachment from family and friends
- Change in physical and emotional reaction
People with PTSD may experience difficulty sleeping and concentrating. They might also show overwhelming guilt or shame and outbursts of aggressive reactions towards mundane situations
CAUSES DURING THE PANDEMIC
COVID-19 has become a global health emergency, threatening not only physical health but also giving rise to psychological concerns due to uncertainty.
Situations that might flare up symptoms of anxiety are:
- Not being able to see the loved ones
- The feeling of confinement and loneliness
- Witnessing illness and deaths of loved ones
- Fear of survival
- Dealing with chronic illness
- Lack of support from family and friends
- Absence of normalcy in life
WHO IS AT RISK FOR PTSD?
- Survivors of Covid-19
- Those who have lost a loved one
- Front-line workers
- People facing economic difficulty
- Those who have preexisting mental health problems
TIPS FOR THOSE WITH PTSD
- Take necessary precautions
Taking measures to keep yourself and your family safe can help calm down anxiety.
- Wash hands or use hand sanitizers when deemed necessary
- Take a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Wear a mask whenever you go out
- Avoid physical contact with people
- Cover your nose and mouth while coughing and sneezing
- Limit exposure to news outlets
While it is essential to stay up to date and well aware of the changing situation, it can be extremely overwhelming and can easily drive you into overthinking. Social media and news platforms can trigger anxiety and negative thoughts. Limit screen time to only a few hours a day and use social media platforms to explore and share uplifting and happy content.
- Stay connected
Everyone is suffering through this pandemic differently. This may be in the form of physical illness, mental anguish, or economic hardship. We might not all be on the same boat, but we are in the same ocean. It is important to communicate emotions and feelings with one another and share experiences. Have a random conversation about the day or discuss a funny incident, anything that would help divert attention and reduce the feeling of loneliness.
- Regain focus with physical activities
Refocus your energy towards physical activities. Go out for a jog or enroll in an online yoga class. It can help relieve stress and cope with symptoms.
- Stay calm
Even though life is disrupted and nothing is as it used to be, try to build some structure back into your life. Start with maintaining a good sleeping pattern and take breaks during the day to collect yourself or even meditate. Pick up hobbies that elevate your mood and may serve as healthy distractions. Know that it is not going to stay like this forever.
- Seek help
If you observe persistent and severe symptoms of acute stress, it is essential to seek professional help. Your mental health needs just as much time and attention as your physical health.
HOW TO CARE FOR SOMEONE WITH PTSD
A few kind words and actions can go a long way. If you know someone who has PTSD or is going through a traumatic time and experiencing symptoms; here are a few ways you can help:
- Understand PTSD
- Learn about their triggers
- Listen closely
- Respect personal space
- Do not judge
- Encourage and support them
- Convince them to get help
Treatment can help regain control over your life again and make sense of the situation. It primarily includes psychotherapy, but medications may be needed to supplement treatment.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT helps find not only unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors that keep you stuck, but also a way to change them and develop coping strategies.
- Exposure Therapy (ET): It is a behavioral therapy that helps face traumatic memories and experiences in a safe environment. It can particularly be helpful for nightmares and flashbacks.
- Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): It combines exposure therapy with natural eye movements that help process traumatic memories in a coping manner.
- Antidepressants: These medications are used to help with symptoms of depression and anxiety. They also help improve complaints of sleep deprivation and lack of concentration.
- Prazosin: It has shown some promising results to suppress nightmares in patients with PTSD.
- Ketamine Infusion Therapy: This is a novel and very effective treatment for PTSD. One prime benefit of this therapy is that it starts showing its efficacy within hours of treatment. Patients who have undergone ketamine infusion have also reported almost immediate cessation of suicidal ideations and long term reduction in depression and anxiety, symptoms that often co-exist with PTSD.
Covid-19 pandemic can cause or worsen PTSD due the various traumatic ways it has permeated in our lives. It is important to be aware of how you are reacting and your feelings during this difficult time. Self-help tactics may be helpful, but if your anxiety and PTSD symptoms persist and worsen, it is crucial to seek out help from professionals in a timely manner.