PTSD linked to COVID-19 pandemic fears

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Even at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, people around the world became more fearful of what could happen to them or their families.

In a new study, researchers tested 1,040 online participants from five western countries to see their response to the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

They found more than 13% of the people had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) symptoms necessary to get a clinical diagnosis.

The finding shows this ongoing global stressor can trigger traumatic stress symptoms.

The research was conducted by a team at Flinders University.

PTSD is a set of reactions, including intrusive recollections such as flashbacks, that can develop in people exposed to an event that threatened their life or safety (e.g. sexual assault, natural disaster).

The online survey examined a range of responses to common post-traumatic stress symptoms, such as repeated disturbing and unwanted images, memories or thoughts about the COVIC-19 pandemic.

Most of the participants reported experiencing some form of psychological distress and 13.2% of our sample were likely PTSD positive when anchoring symptoms to COVID-19.

But only 2% of the people reported they had personally tested positive to COVID-19, and only 5% reported that close family and friends had tested positive.

The team found traumatic stress was related to future events, such as worry about oneself or a family member contracting COVID-19, to direct contact with the virus, as well as indirect contact such as via the news and government lockdown—a non-life-threatening event.

The findings highlight the need to focus on the acute psychological distress—including the perceived emotional impact of particular events—associated with COVID-19.

The team says COVID-19’s psychological fallout has been dubbed the “second curve,” predicted to last for months to years.

One author of the study is Associate Professor Melanie Takarangi.

The study is published in PLOS ONE.

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