Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) should be redefined in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, says Varun Choudhary, M.D., in a recent post for Addiction Professional. “One of the biggest concerns keeping behavioral health specialists up at night is the emotional weight of the coronavirus outbreak.”
The number of Americans reporting symptoms of anxiety has tripled since the start of the pandemic, and “while the pandemic itself does not formally meet the criteria for causing PTSD, many of the same issues can result from this widespread and overwhelming event,” writes Dr. Choudhary. “Additionally, certain crises during the pandemic can trigger anxiety and fear, such as the loss of a family member or sudden loss of employment or income.”
Substance misuse is common among individuals who have experienced a traumatic event. Frequently, this occurs as a result of patients self-medicating in order to alleviate symptoms associated with PTSD, including depression, anxiety, and panic. A global traumatizing event such as the COVID pandemic could result in a significant increase in the prevalence of substance use disorder (SUD) in the coming years.
“It is often assumed that individuals should be able to move on from the COVID-related trauma they have experienced. The truth is that the strong emotions felt by someone suffering from PTSD can prompt changes in the brain that result in it not being possible for some individuals to move on, much as they want to do so,” warns Dr. Choudhary.
In Addiction Professional, Choudhary offers some tips on what to look for in specific patients, including doctors and nurses. “Some healthcare professionals have a hard time asking for help. They are trained to put their needs aside and therefore might internalize their anxieties, fears, sadness, and grief to continue to function and care for their patients. Unfortunately, this can manifest itself in adverse ways, such as increased use of alcohol and substances to deal with these emotions.” First responders can be equally affected by exposure to the pandemic and the suffering it causes.
People don’t always show signs of PTSD immediately. Symptoms may not appear until months or years after a traumatic event has occurred. They can also come and go over many years. Commonly, PTSD symptoms include:
- Persistent re-experiencing of a traumatic event, via nightmares or recurrent thoughts
- Negative alterations in cognition and mood, such as an inability to recall important aspects of the trauma, a persistent negative emotional state, loss of interest in important activities, and detachment from those around you
- Increased arousal or reactivity, including irritability, a highly sensitive startle reaction, self-harm, or recklessness
To counter PTSD symptoms, healthcare professionals could suggest self-care methods that help patients offset their stress with positive, calming activities. “Teach them breathing techniques that help their muscles relax, and suggest actions that keep their mind occupied, such as yoga or other forms of exercise,” recommends Dr. Choudhary.
If PTSD is having an impact on an individual’s sleep, mood, focus, or ability to function for a prolonged period of time, it is important to direct the individual toward professional help.
If you or a loved one is experiencing PTSD and want help, Recovery Ways is here for you. In addition to our acclaimed addiction treatment program, Recovery Ways recently created a standalone mental health program for those struggling with depression, anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and other mood disorders without a substance use disorder (SUD) diagnosis. Our trauma-informed, clinically integrated treatment program offers profound and comprehensive long-term support. Please call us at (888) 988-5217.