COVID-19 and PTSD: Assessing the Pandemic’s Toll on Mental Health. Why? because if you have not had COVID-19 there is a guilt that you have nothing to complain about? Yale Medicine.

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COVID-19 and PTSD: Assessing the Pandemic’s Toll on Mental Health

January 02, 2022

Coping with COVID-19

Illness, grief, job loss, social isolation, uncertainty, and other pandemic-driven stressors have contributed to an increase in psychological distress on an unusually wide scale. As researchers and clinicians continue to grapple with the psychological fallout from COVID-19, a growing body of literature has examined the prevalence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the general public.

Women’s Health Research at Yale, in partnership with colleagues at the University of Bordeaux in France and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs National Center for PTSD, published a paper in the journal Chronic Stress identifying 36 studies assessing PTSD symptoms in the general population, and the occurrence of these symptoms ranged from 5 percent to 55 percent of those being studied, averaging 26 percent across the studies.

How can these estimates vary so greatly, and can such wide swaths of the public truly be suffering from pandemic-related PTSD? Before the pandemic, about 3.5 percent of American adults every year were diagnosed with PTSD, with women twice as likely as men to have the disorder.

Can the public truly be suffering from PTSD?

The American Psychiatric Association defines PTSD as a disorder in which someone experiences “intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings” for long periods following a traumatic event. Such a diagnosis requires, in part, that the event involve “actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence” either directly; as a witness; or learning of a loved one’s serious injury, encounter with sexual violence, or violent or accident death.

Dr. Mathilde Husky, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Bordeaux and lead author of the paper, notes that a life-threatening medical condition does not qualify unless it involves sudden or catastrophic events, such as waking up during surgery or anaphylactic shock. Husky and her co-authors question whether the pandemic “as a disruptive global experience can be construed as direct exposure to a traumatic event in the general population.”

Dr. Mathilde Husky

Dr. Mathilde Husky, previously a postdoctoral student with Dr. Mazure and now a professor at the University of Bordeaux, is lead author of a study on classifying the pandemic’s effect on mental health.

“As clinicians, when we ask about symptoms of PTSD, it’s always in reference to a specific traumatic event, with a significant level of shock,” Husky said. “In the context of a pandemic that is nearing two years in length, if I ask someone if they are experiencing flashbacks, the question becomes: flashbacks of what? Are they avoiding cues in their environment or situations that would expose them to things that would remind them of the event? Some people report a singular traumatic event in the context of the pandemic, but many do not.”

These findings have led the authors to question whether the pandemic can be considered as a single entity when it can affect people in so many different ways over such a long period of time, depending on their jobs, exposure to the disease, preexisting stressors and psychopathology, and many other factors. And, as important, whether other existing classifications adequately address the health needs of individuals who experience stress not as a single event but as an enduring experience with varying levels of severity or shock.

The authors, including Drs. Robert Pietrzak of Yale and the National Center for PTSD and Brian Marx at the National Center for PTSD, suggest that the next research step should be to ensure that PTSD criteria are met when evaluating PTSD or consider another, alternative way of classifying perceived stress that is related to a long, ongoing adverse experience. In addition, the authors suggest researchers should gather data on preexisting mental health disorders and prior exposure to traumatic events to better determine the source of more recent symptoms.

“We must also continue to focus on how preexisting and concurrent stressors may disproportionately affect women more than men,” said Dr. Carolyn M. Mazure, senior author on the paper and director of WHRY. “There is a growing body of evidence showing that lockdowns, school closures, and working from home to reduce the spread of COVID-19, for example, have had a greater effect on women. Is this because women have greater ongoing stressors?”

Submitted by Rick Harrison on December 20, 2021


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© 2022 Yale School of Medicine. Updated 10/24/2019

Norma Weinberg Spungen and Joan Lebson Bildner Professor in Women’s Health Research and Professor of Psychiatry and of Psychology; Director, Women’s Health Research at Yale

About michelleclarke2015

Life event that changes all: Horse riding accident in Zimbabwe in 1993, a fractured skull et al including bipolar anxiety, chronic fatigue …. co-morbidities (Nietzche 'He who has the reason why can deal with any how' details my health history from 1993 to date). 17th 2017 August operation for breast cancer (no indications just an appointment came from BreastCheck through the Post). Trinity College Dublin Business Economics and Social Studies (but no degree) 1997-2003; UCD 1997/1998 night classes) essays, projects, writings. Trinity Horizon Programme 1997/98 (Centre for Women Studies Trinity College Dublin/St. Patrick's Foundation (Professor McKeon) EU Horizon funded: research study of 15 women (I was one of this group and it became the cornerstone of my journey to now 2017) over 9 mth period diagnosed with depression and their reintegration into society, with special emphasis on work, arts, further education; Notes from time at Trinity Horizon Project 1997/98; Articles written for 2003/2004; St Patricks Foundation monthly lecture notes for a specific period in time; Selection of Poetry including poems written by people I know; Quotations 1998-2017; other writings mainly with theme of social justice under the heading Citizen Journalism Ireland. Letters written to friends about life in Zimbabwe; Family history including Michael Comyn KC, my grandfather, my grandmother's family, the O'Donnellan ffrench Blake-Forsters; Moral wrong: An acrimonious divorce but the real injustice was the Catholic Church granting an annulment – you can read it and make your own judgment, I have mine. Topics I have written about include annual Brain Awareness week, Mashonaland Irish Associataion in Zimbabwe, Suicide (a life sentence to those left behind); Nostalgia: Tara Hill, Co. Meath.
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