The Covid-PTSD Cases Blast Is A Mental Health Crisis Emerging | Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

W.When the Covid-19 pandemic began, the people who worked in trauma knew that the psychological toll would be enormous. In the spring of 2020, I began interviewing professionals on the mental health impact of the pandemic, particularly its impact on frontline medical staff. During the first wave, two in five ICUs in England reported symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

This work lasted almost a year, during which time a second wave hit and the initial trauma worsened. But not only front-line workers suffered from trauma symptoms: Covid has been perhaps the greatest threat to mental health in England since World War II. Now, at the end of 2021, the pandemic is still not over. The NHS predicts there will be 230,000 new cases of PTSD nationwide due to Covid-19.

Not only the social and medical staff are affected. Those who have lost loved ones and those who have been very sick or hospitalized (35% of Covid-19 patients who have been put on a ventilator continue to have extensive symptoms of PTSD). Then there are those living with the consequences of domestic and sexual abuse, which the lockdown may have made worse, and children and teenagers whose lives have been transformed immeasurably by our transition to the state of emergency. I can imagine that some women whose birth experiences were shaped by the pandemic will also have symptoms.

Unfortunately, the current system is still not fully equipped to deal with this explosion of trauma. The Royal College of Psychiatrists says the NHS is already facing the worst backlog in its history with those waiting for psychological help. 1.6 million people were waiting for treatment in September, and the college says more money is urgently needed than the government has promised, including for additional psychiatric apprenticeships. Record numbers of children and adolescents – almost double the pre-pandemic months leading up to September – seek access to mental health services, while a report by Buttle UK warns that a generation of children, especially those on low incomes, face years of trauma and psychological problems as a result of Covid-19.

While PTSD is still heavily associated with veterans in the public mind, there appears to be a broader understanding of the condition and its symptoms than there was before the pandemic. It’s not a mental illness that made a lot of headlines in pre-pandemic times, 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 hit in the bestseller charts, and new books and memoirs are commissioned by publishers. Trauma memes and tweets are becoming more common among younger people, and there seems to be less stigma about what PTSD actually entails, as terms such as “trigger” and “depersonalization” or “derealization” become more common.

Unfortunately, some of these words, especially triggers, have also been co-opted as part of a culture war depicting those who find “triggering” oversensitive. The ignorant response to Labor MP Nadia Whittome taking time off earlier this year due to post-traumatic stress, including comments that she could not have PTSD because she was not in a war, shows how much work still needs to be done did.

While it is positive to see increased discussion on this issue, a more in-depth and empathic media presence would be beneficial, including firsthand reports on the disorder. What’s the use of knowing the terminology if it doesn’t depend on an understanding of what PTSD actually feels like? So many of the people I have spoken to only began to realize they had real, treatable mental illness when they read about or heard other people speak about their experiences.

A trauma sufferer can experience the symptoms of depersonalization – a dream-like, detached being outside of oneself and floating distant through life – without being aware that this could have anything to do with the traumatic events they experienced. Or they have terrible nightmares that, on the surface, have little to do with what happened to them. Anthologies like Trauma, which was published by Dodo Ink last year and which I contributed to, show how diverse and multifaceted a mental illness PTSD can be.

As always with mental health, increased awareness can only be good, but it also needs to be underpinned by real structural support and change. What good is it if, after a patient finally realizes their symptoms could be PTSD and effective treatments are available, then languishing on a waiting list for months? With PTSD, early support is absolutely critical to your chances of recovery, and yet the system is lagging behind unprecedented.

The saddest part of all of this is that PTSD is superbly treatable, but the longer the pandemic goes on and the longer people have to wait, the harder it becomes. Volunteer therapists have been used to fill the gaps in care, but they have to make a living. One of the things I’ve heard the most about in my reporting is how further waves of Covid have exacerbated the initial trauma, leading to complex, or Type 2 PTSD for some. This is usually seen in war veterans and victims of child abuse – people who have been subjected to repeated, prolonged trauma. It’s harder to deal with and has worse results.

The post-traumatic stress disorder explosion is a medical emergency and another burden on our creaky services. Without adequate action and investment, a national mental health crisis threatens.


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