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What is Post Pandemic Stress Disorder?

The pandemic has been mentally and physically challenging for many of us, and as many countries hope that the vaccine rollout could mean the restoration of ‘normality’, the effects of the pandemic on many people’s mental health will have taken its toll. Whether this is a understandable trepidation to be in crowds or attend local events, or an increase in mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Some experts have been discussing the likelihood of a rise in post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms after the collective trauma and upheaval experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Many experts are simply discussing the function of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. PTSD can occur after an individual has experienced a traumatic event. Nature writes: ‘a major infectious disease pandemic may have widespread and pervasive detrimental effects on individuals’ mental health. For example, a sudden disease outbreak that is associated with high infectivity and rapid transmission results in fear, distress, and anxiety in the public. Long-term stress and anxiety that are caused by a pandemic may further induce symptoms of depression. This ongoing exposure to danger, illness, death, disaster situations, stigma, and discrimination during a pandemic can induce an acute stress response and even cause posttraumatic stress reactions.’ 

However, others are specifically linking this to the pandemic. Reported in Metro, psychotherapist and former NHS clinical lead for mental health has coined the term ‘Post Pandemic Stress Disorder’ to focus on the mental health issues specifically stemming from the pandemic.

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Post Pandemic Stress Disorder is not yet a formal term nor diagnosis, but as Metro reports: ‘Owen’s concern is that many people will have experienced varying degrees of trauma over the past year: loss, isolation, illness, unable to say goodbye to loved ones, business failures and daily horrific news headlines.’ He explains that there are two types of trauma’s ‘large T traumas’ manifesting in PTSD and ‘little t traumas’ which turn into anxiety and/or depression. Many will have experienced a culmination of ‘little t’ traumas over the course of the pandemic. 

Owen stated to Metro: ‘I suspect we will see an increase of symptoms relating to anxiety and mood after lockdown restrictions ease. I believe many of these symptoms will be related directly to underlying trauma and if this isn’t recognized now, then we will be inadequately prepared.’ He adds: ‘Ultimately, without PPSD being recognized and respected by those in positions of authority, the trauma people have experience will not be processed.

This is likely to have a detrimental impact on the health of a society which is already under a massive amount of strain… ‘The pandemic has undoubtedly had a severe impact on every single one of us, and I am not alone in the belief there will be a post-pandemic mental health crisis… Therefore, it is not inconceivable or dramatic to want a new diagnosis which pays respect to the challenges we have faced over the past year and I hope we can create an appropriate framework which will help people to move on and lead happy and healthier lives.’

The symptoms of PPSD that were outlined by outlined Owen, are not dissimilar to the symptoms of PTSD and include: ‘Increased levels of anxiety, variations in mood, sleep issues, nightmares, avoiding situations that remind you of pandemic/lockdowns, Feeling on guard on constantly vigilant about future pandemics or recurrences of Covid-19 and Intrusive type thoughts about your pandemic experiences.’

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Our understanding of PTSD derived from health pandemics is apparently limited and varied in conclusions. A recent study entitled ‘Prevalence of posttraumatic stress disorder after infectious disease pandemics in the twenty-first century, including COVID-19: a meta-analysis and systematic review’ published in Nature wrote:

‘Numerous studies have investigated the prevalence of PTSD after pandemics. However, controversy exists with regard to the prevalence and pattern of PTSD (e.g., PTSD with acute onset or delayed onset) after such infectious disease outbreaks. The prevalence of PTSD that has been reported in epidemiological studies has varied widely, depending on the particular outbreak, target population, and methods that are used to assess the disorder. Such prevalence estimates range from 2.3 to 55.1%… Although epidemiological data on PTSD are growing, the global prevalence of PTSD and its drivers in individuals after pandemics remain largely unknown.’ 

The same study concluded however that: ‘The combined prevalence of PTSD after infectious disease pandemics that was found in the present study (23%) was even higher than the estimated pooled prevalence after other disasters, such as major traumatic events (~20%) [112] and floods (~16%) [110].

Our results indicate that PTSD is common in individuals who experience infectious diseases outbreaks, which may persist over a relatively long period of time. Confirmed cases of infection, frontline healthcare workers, and quarantined individuals tend to be vulnerable populations who have a higher potential of developing post-pandemic PTSD.’

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