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‘More than 40% of people suffer trauma following Covid-19′

by Mimi Launder
12 February 2021

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Many people suffer trauma with symptoms such as flashbacks after catching Covid-19, even if they did not require clinical assistance or hospitalisation, a study has found.

The Imperial College London and University of Southampton study, published on Tuesday, looked at 13,049 people with experience of coronavirus. It found that 41% had experienced at least one symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to an ‘extremely’ high degree.

The research also found that ‘extensive’ PTSD symptoms – classed as those who experienced all ten of the PTSD symptoms included in the survey – were suffered by one in three patients in hospital on a ventilator (35%) and one in five (18%) in hospital without a ventilator.

But extensive trauma symptoms were also reported by people with Covid who stayed at home with breathing difficulties, whether with clinical help (16%) or without (11%).

Three-quarters of survey respondents (9,200) did not experience breathing problems. But 3,466 reported breathing difficulties without requiring medical input, 176 said they had assistance at home for breathing problems, 147 were hospitalised without a ventilator and 60 needed ventilation.   

Dr Adam Hampshire, from Imperial College London, said: ‘We can see that the pandemic is likely to be having an acute and lasting impact, including for a significant proportion of patients who remained at home with respiratory problems and received no medical help.’

The researchers added that the findings highlight the importance of mental health follow-ups and access to mental health treatments for Covid patients.

PTSD symptoms can start immediately or after a delay, but usually within six months of the traumatic event. Without timely treatment, suffering can continue for years.   

Symptoms include intrusive images (known as flashbacks), waves of strong feelings about their illness, avoiding talking about it, trying to erase memories, and being nervous or easily startled. The most common symptom experienced by Covid-19 patients was flashbacks.

Royal College of Psychiatrists president Dr Adrian James said: ‘It is clear that Covid-19 can have serious mental health consequences. This virus isn’t just a threat to our physical health, it also poses significant risks to mental health during and following the illness.’                                      

In November, a study found that nearly one in five people (18.1%) with Covid-19 receive a diagnosis of anxiety, depression or insomnia within three months.

A version of this story first appeared on Management in Practice’s sister title, Nursing in Practice.