PTSD and coronavirus

Pablo Vandenabelle
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK
23 July 2020
Next review due July 2023

What is PTSD?

PTSD is a mental health condition that is caused by experiencing something harrowing or very frightening. Many people think that PTSD is something that only happens to soldiers, but it can affect anybody who experiences something very distressing.

There are four main types of PTSD symptoms.

  • Intrusive thoughts, such as nightmares about the traumatic event or experiencing strong memories during the day (flashbacks).
  • Avoiding situations that remind you of the trauma.
  • Changes in your mood and memory. You may feel isolated, unable to remember certain parts of the trauma or feel very tense and alert all the time (hyper-vigilance).
  • Changes in your behaviour, such as difficulty concentrating, having trouble sleeping or being easily frightened.

Having some of these symptoms after something bad happens is normal, and it doesn’t mean you have PTSD. You should speak to your doctor or another health professional if they go on longer than a month as this might be a sign you need some help.

Coronavirus and PTSD

For most people, the coronavirus pandemic will be one of the most significant things that has happened in their lifetime. It’s normal for it to make us feel worried and anxious. However, some people might find that they go on to develop PTSD because of it. We know that this has happened with other pandemics, like SARS and Swine flu.

People might be more likely to develop PTSD if they:

  • were admitted to hospital with COVID-19
  • have loved ones that have been unwell or passed away due to coronavirus
  • work in a hospital or care home
  • spent lockdown with somebody who was abusive

How to cope with PTSD

If you think you might be suffering from PTSD it’s important that you speak to your GP, who can help you get the advice and support you need. There are lots of different ways to treat PTSD. Common treatments that your doctor might recommend include:

Some medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics may also be helpful.

Remember that lots of people will be struggling to come to terms with what has happened. You’re not alone if the pandemic has had a negative impact on your mental health.

There are also some things you can do yourself to try and feel better.

  • Eat regular, healthy, balanced meals and snacks.
  • Get some exercise if you can, which will help you to de-stress.
  • Try to get into a regular sleep schedule by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day.
  • Connect with friends and family, either in person (while following government guidelines) or virtually.
  • Think about what makes you feel more anxious, like watching the news, and limit the time you spend doing these things.
  • Make sure you aren’t drinking too much alcohol.

Bupa has a dedicated topic page to PTSD, with further information on symptoms and treatments.

Other helpful websites

  • Mind.
  • Samaritans.
  • If you’re a health or social care worker, you can text FRONTLINE to 85258 to get in touch with a specially trained crisis volunteer from Shout.
  • Citizen’s Advice has information on organisations that can offer help and support for domestic abuse.

Pablo Vandenabelle
Pablo Vandenabeele
Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK

    • Guidance on screening and active monitoring for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health consequences in people recovering from severe COVID-19 illness. Covid Trauma Response Working Group., published June 25 2020
    • The case for a trauma-informed response to COVID-19. Covid Trauma Response Working Group., published 17 April 2020
    • Dutheil F, Mondillon L, Navel V. PTSD as the second tsunami of the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic. Psychol Med 2020; 1–2. doi:10.1017/S0033291720001336 Post-traumatic stress disorder. BMJ Best Practice., updated April 2019
    • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Mind., published May 2017
    • GPs predict ‘huge surge’ in patients with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder due to COVID-19. The Royal College of General Practitioners., published 21 June 2020
    • After-care needs of inpatients recovering from COVID-19. NHS England., published 5 June 2020
    • Mental health and psychosocial considerations during the COVID-19 outbreak. The World Health Organization., published 18 March 2020
    • What is PTSD Hypervigilance? PTSDUK., accessed 22 July 2020

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