Monday, March 2, 2020

How Psychiatrists Can Help Patients During Coronavirus Outbreak

Fear, stigma, depression, anxiety, and posttraumatic stress disorder followed major infectious disease outbreaks earlier in this century, and psychiatrists should be prepared for similar reactions as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak expands.

“Physicians should check in with vulnerable populations, and that includes psychiatric patients, especially those with anxiety disorders or severe mental illness,” Judith Bass, Ph.D., an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Psychiatric News.

Infectious disease outbreaks can have short- and long-term psychological effects on patients, health care professionals, and surrounding communities where outbreaks are reported. Studies of survivors of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in Asia and Canada in 2003 indicated high rates of psychiatric disorders both during the acute phase of the pandemic and up to four years later.

“It is essential to understand how any given patient will most effectively receive information and tailor communication and interventions using a patient-centered approach,” Joshua Morganstein, M.D., chair of APA’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disasters, said in an email. To promote the well-being of patients during the coronavirus outbreak, health care professionals should remind patients to obtain the latest information from reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, and limit exposure to media coverage of the outbreak.

Prior experience with SARS and the Ebola virus have helped hospitals in the United States prepare for disease outbreaks, said Bass. To date, coronavirus appears to have a higher risk of infection coupled with a much lower fatality rate than SARS and the Ebola virus.

Even as health care professionals work with patients who may be experiencing various levels of emotional distress over the coronavirus outbreak, it is important they take proper steps to care for themselves, including taking care of their own basic needs, monitoring themselves for stress reactions, and checking in with family members, according to a fact sheet from the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress (CSTS) at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. The CSTS also suggests educating patients about personal protective measures, such as handwashing, to minimize disease exposure and helping them to anticipate, normalize, and manage stress in the face of uncertainty.

For more information, see the APA blog post “Coronavirus and Mental Health: Taking Care of Ourselves During Infectious Disease Outbreaks” by Morganstein.

(Image: iStock/fizkes)

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