Thousands of people have symptoms of PTSD and other mental ailments, and it’s only gotten worse during COVID-19. According to some studies, 19 percent of American adults suffer from a mental illness – or the equivalent of over 47 million people. Unfortunately, about 5 percent of all people “experience a severe mental illness.”
What is PTSD?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, “is a psychological condition that occurs on the heels of a traumatic event, ranging from a natural disaster to the death of a loved one to a global pandemic. Perhaps best known as a disorder that strikes war veterans, PTSD can happen to anyone, regardless of their age, ethnicity or gender.” It can happen within days, weeks, or years following a traumatic event, like a serious accident or terrorist act.
Who’s Most at Risk?
According to experts at Cedars-Sinai, “It’s important to note that not everyone who experiences a terrifying or life-threatening event will go on to develop PTSD. In fact, most people weather tremendous trauma without ongoing distress and suffering. Whether or not you develop persistent symptoms is related, in part, to how your body and mind process the trauma you’ve experienced.”
But there is a trigger: COVID-19. About a third of people experiencing the phenomenon of not being able to breathe, like in brutal cases of COVID-19, are diagnosed down with clinical PTSD following those experiences. Studies reveal the hospitalization experience — confusion and fear and feeling like you’re drowning — is devastating.
Other factors that can lead to PTSD include:
- A history of mental disorders or substance use disorder
- Surviving dangerous events
- Getting emotionally or physically hurt
- See another person suffering
- Childhood abuse, trauma, or neglect
- Feeling at risk in your environment
- Little social support
“Classic” PTSD Symptoms to Watch For
- Avoidance behaviors. You avoid activities, people, places, and situations that might trigger a disturbing memory. Mental health professionals regard avoidance as a defensive strategy, but one that comes with a cost. Your resist talking about the trauma, resulting in feelings of detachment and leading to isolation from other people.
- Hyperarousal and reactivity. People with PTSD startle easily and get strong reactions to everyday sensory encounters, like a light touch or loud noise. Combat veterans with PTSD may associate a staccato sound with war and instantly react like it’s gunfire.
- Intrusive memories are when you relive the trauma through flashbacks, involuntary memories, and nightmares. You might have trouble sleeping due to intrusive dreams or thoughts.
- Mood disturbances like distorted thoughts and feelings of fear, guilt, or sadness. It’s not unusual for people with PTSD to experience angry outbursts, behave irresponsibly or in a self-destructive way, or be very irritable.
Fear of Stigma
Some people who suffer from PTSD or another mental illness already feel stigmatized by their condition, but the COVID-19 pandemic has made things worse. People with mental illness have a hard time getting the care they need, but there’s been a concerted effort during COVID-19 to reach as many PTSD sufferers as possible. Key strategies include outreach and targeted screening including the use of smartphone apps to reach health providers and patients suffering from PTSD and COVID-related stress.
Dr. Ronald Brenner, psychiatrist and Catholic Health’s Chairman of Behavioral Health said of those suffering from PTSD during COVID-19, “They have fear of being labeled. I think it is a brand new constellation of symptoms for them that they are totally scared about and totally ashamed about. In a way, I think it’s much harder for them to accept that there is a psychological component to this and not just a physical component.”
Coping With PTSD, Covid-19, and Stress
PTSD is incurable, but COVID-19 and stress can be treated and the symptoms of all three can be managed. To help relieve symptoms of PTSD, try these steps:
- Take breathers from listening to, reading, or watching news accounts, especially on social media.
- Take care of your body by eating right, exercising, getting enough sleep, and avoiding tobacco and alcohol.
- Find time to unwind.
- Connect with family and friends.
- Connect with your community or local church.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Successfully addressing symptoms of PTSD or another mental disorder relies on the expertise of healthcare professionals to first diagnose the condition, then recommend treatment options. Before agreeing to any therapy or treatment like ketamine, ask about risks and benefits. Having the right information will help you make an informed decision.
Care for patients suffering from PTSD, COVID-19, and other illnesses has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years. If you experience symptoms of a mental disorder or other ailment, get help from a medical or mental health professional. Many resources are available online and possibly even near you.