Commentary

A surge in PTSD may be the ‘new normal’


 

Is there evidence that a prior episode of PTSD or traumatic experience like combat influences a subsequent reaction to a trauma like this?

It depends on how they manage. Research suggests that veterans or other people who have experienced trauma and naturally recovered, or who have gotten good treatment and remitted from that issue, are probably at no higher risk. But people who have subsyndromal PTSD or depression, or who are still experiencing symptoms from a history of trauma exposure, are maybe at a higher risk of having problems over time.

Do you have any guidance for healthcare providers on how to approach the pandemic with their patients, and also on how they can look after their own mental health?

In talking to patients, make sure that they have what they need. Ask if they’ve thought through how they’re going to cope if things get harder for them.

For people who have preexisting mental health issues, I’m talking with them about whether things have gotten worse. If they’re at high risk for suicide, I’m checking in to make sure that they’ve got new plans and ways to connect with people to reduce isolation, keeping in mind the social distancing that we’re asked to engage in so that they can do that safely.

It’s important to check and see if they have had any losses, whether it’s a financial loss or a personal loss of people that they care about. Also have them think through ways to stay entertained, which tends to help manage their own anxiety.

Every coping strategy we outline for patients also applies to mental health professionals. However, you would add to it the real need to take time to recharge, to take breaks, time off. It can feel overwhelming and like you need to just keep going. But the more that you get stuck in that mode of overdoing it, the less effective you’re going to be in helping people and also the more likely that you’ll be at risk of perhaps being one of the people that needs help.

It’s also important to make sure you’re staying connected with family and friends virtually, in whatever ways you can safely do that with social distancing.

So take a break to watch some Netflix now and then?

Yes!

A version of this article originally appeared on Medscape.com.

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