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GPs adapt techniques to manage military PTSD for cases related to Covid-19

by Awil Mohamoud
22 June 2020

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GPs are borrowing techniques they would traditionally use to diagnose and treat war veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to help patients overcome mental health issues brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

The RCGP has reworked learning materials initially designed to help GPs support veterans adjusting to civilian life, to now reflect similar needs that many patients are expected to have after three months of lockdown. 

The college has predicted a ‘huge surge’ in patients with PTSD due to the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It said that GPs are already reporting a rise in the number of patients with anxiety, depression and trauma symptoms, particularly among those with pre-existing physical and mental health conditions. 

The new resource, created by Essex GP and RCGP medical director for e-Learning Dr Dirk Pilat and Royal College of Psychiatrists professor Neil Greenberg, includes information about spotting the signs and symptoms of PTSD. Although most GPs will be familiar with these, it is suggested they may be missed or attributed to depression or other anxiety disorders.

The information also includes vlogs, screencasts, a screening test and tips about how GPs should approach sensitive discussions with patients with possible PTSD to make them feel comfortable and assured.

Past pandemics, including SARS and Swine flu (H1N1), have resulted in an increase in PTSD, stress symptoms, depression and adjustment disorders.

Key workers, particularly in health and social care, will have been particularly vulnerable to anxiety during the pandemic. 

Worcestershire GP and RCGP joint honorary secretary, Dr Jonathan Leach OBE, said: ‘So many analogies of war have been used to describe Covid-19 – we talk about the ‘battle’ against the virus and NHS staff are commonly referred to as ‘troops on the frontline’.

‘Just as post-traumatic stress disorder is increased in armed forces personnel returning from war zones, we expect PTSD to be more common post-Covid as people come to terms with the life-changing experiences they have gone through, either because of their experiences at work or having lost loved ones.

‘Whilst lockdown measures were necessary to reduce the spread of the virus, for many people they have unintentionally created heavy psychological, emotional and financial problems. For some of our patients, the ‘stay at home’ guidance has created a toxic environment, leading to an increase in domestic abuse.

‘Most patients experiencing mild symptoms will benefit from simple interventions, such as a reassuring discussion with their GP, but some patients will need much more than that including specialist referral, which is why the College has adapted its existing resources for GPs caring for veterans.’


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