According to a team of doctors from the University College of London (UCL), patients who were critically ill and hospitalized due to COVID-19, the infection caused by the new coronavirus, should be urgently screened for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD.
The COVID Trauma Response Working Group, led by experts from south-east England, said patients who had been in ICU with severe symptoms of coronavirus were more likely to be at risk of developing PTSD post-hospitalization.
The doctors said it is important to regularly check those patients up at least once a year for any signs of PTSD.
They said tens of thousands of critically ill COVID-19 patients would have been at risk of PTSD.
The team highlighted research that showed 30 percent of severely ill COVID-19 patients had gone on to develop PTSD, with symptoms of depression and anxiety commonly seen among them.
A patient named Tracy, 59, is one such person who has been left psychologically disturbed from her COVID-19 experience. In March, she was admitted to Whittington Hospital in north London with COVID-19, spending more than three weeks in the hospital, with one of which was in ICU.
She said, “It was like being in hell. I saw people dying, people with the life being sucked from them. The staff all have masks on and all you saw was eyes – it was so lonely and frightening.”
Post-hospitalization, she has been struggling to sleep because of the thought that she will die soon and constantly suffering flashbacks. She is now receiving psychological counseling.
“It has been really difficult,” Tracy said. “Physically I have been so tired. I’m beginning to recover, but the mental side of it is very hard to deal with. I have a good support network of family and friends and I’m a positive person – and I am struggling. I think there will be plenty of people who are in a similar situation, if not worse.”
Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Bloomfield of UCL said such patients must have faced a “very frightening and invasive” experience along with the long-term mental health complications due to stress.
He said the unique nature of this ongoing pandemic could make things worse as patients are isolated from their families during hospitalization.
“We need to make sure we support these patients,” said Dr. Bloomfield, who is one of the doctors of the group. “Services in place are very variable. Failure to do more could have long-term consequences.”
NHS England also said it was clear that the COVID-19 pandemic had “turned lives upside down.” Dr. Bloomfield said all COVID-19 survivors who were hospitalized will be screened for PTSD and will have a follow-up appointment with doctors who can assess their mental health.