A study published last month measured rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in people who recovered from severe COVID-19. Among the 381 participants in the study, 115 had PTSD, making up 30.2% of the patients studied. By contrast, 7-8% of the general US population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
People with Severe COVID-19 Went Through a Major Trauma
For the study, patients who had been treated at an emergency department in Italy were referred to a post-acute care service and assessed by psychiatrists. Of the 115 people who had PTSD, 72 had more than three recurring symptoms post-illness.
The participants were likely struggling to breathe and afraid of dying. They were going through that while living in a frantic emergency department, with little control over what happened.
It was a very traumatic, stressful, and often prolonged experience—particularly for those who continued to have symptoms after being released from the hospital. In his book The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. says that having no way of escaping or gaining control over a traumatic situation often leads to PTSD.
What is PTSD and How is it Treated?
People with PTSD may experience intense flashbacks, distressing memories, upsetting nightmares, severe emotional distress and anxiety after a traumatic event. Common treatments for the disorder include Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), exposure therapy, cognitive processing therapy, and medications.
Many of these therapies are about confronting or processing the trauma in a safe space. In The Body Keeps the Score, van der Kolk discusses how people with PTSD are neurologically stuck in the moment of the traumatic event long after it is over. The goal of treatment is to bring the person into the present and help them recognize that they are safe now.
According to WebMD, medications can help because, “The brains of people with PTSD process ‘threats’ differently, in part because the balance of chemicals called neurotransmitters is out of whack. They have an easily triggered ‘fight or flight’ response, which is what makes you jumpy and on-edge…Medications help you stop thinking about and reacting to what happened, including having nightmares and flashbacks.”
The study authors recognize that the study has limits. It was only done with patients who were treated in one center. It lacked a control group of people attending emergency treatment for other reasons. However, as we continue to contend with the COVID-19 pandemic, studies like these will help us provide proper mental health treatment.
If you are struggling with a mental health or substance use disorder, there is help and hope. TruHealing Centers offers high-quality treatment for mental health disorders and addiction in facilities across the country. Our staff will help you process traumas and build coping skills to thrive in recovery. Call an admissions specialist at 410-593-0005.