Wednesday, May 18, 2022

COVID-19–Related Trauma Reported by 40% of People With Mental Illness

About 40% of people with a history of psychiatric disorder reported having found some aspect of the COVID‐19 pandemic to be traumatic, according to a report in Depression and Anxiety. However, only about 5% of these people reported a traumatic event that met criteria for diagnosing posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), such as exposure to actual or threatened death or a threatening series of events.

Younger people, those with low income and lower social support, financial worries, and/or lived experience of PTSD were most likely to report traumatic stress symptoms.

“It is important to note that in the context of such a widespread event, even a very small percentage of people with PTSD amounts to a significant mental health burden,” wrote Catrin Lewis, Ph.D., of the National Centre for Mental Health at Cardiff University School of Medicine in the United Kingdom and colleagues.

The researchers surveyed 1,571 individuals with lived experience of psychiatric disorder who were participants in a longitudinal study of mental health during the COVID‐19 pandemic by the Welsh National Centre for Mental Health. Participants included those with lived experience with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, personality disorder, PTSD, and autism spectrum disorders.

The participants were asked if they found any aspect of the COVID‐19 pandemic traumatic (yes/no); if they answered “yes,” they were prompted to share their most troubling experience. The researchers then judged whether that description met the traumatic stressor criterion of ICD‐11 (defined as “exposure to an extremely threatening or horrific event or series of events”) and/or DSM‐5 (defined as “exposure to actual or threatened death, serious injury, or sexual violence”). Additionally, participants who reported a traumatic experience completed the PTSD subscale of the International Trauma Questionnaire.

A total of 630 participants (40.10%) found some aspect of the pandemic traumatic, with generalized worry about the pandemic (12.22%) and lockdown/social distancing restrictions (8.47%) being the “most troubling” experiences reported most frequently. However, 5.28% reported a traumatic exposure that met the traumatic stressor criterion according to ICD‐11 and 3.06% according to DSM‐5. Traumas that met criteria according to both ICD‐11 and DSM‐5 included experiencing severe symptoms of COVID‐19 and witnessing another person being critically unwell or dying.

“Given the often‐chronic nature of PTSD, identifying risk factors for its development is vital, whilst being cautious not to unnecessarily pathologize transient reactions,” the researchers wrote. “Clinical services would benefit from being trauma‐informed and equipped to deal with PTSD on its own or in combination with other conditions.”

For related information, see the Psychiatric News article “40% of Adults Reported Worsening Mental Health During Pandemic.”

(Image: iStock/franckreporter)

Don't miss out! To learn about newly posted articles in Psychiatric News, please sign up here.


The content of Psychiatric News does not necessarily reflect the views of APA or the editors. Unless so stated, neither Psychiatric News nor APA guarantees, warrants, or endorses information or advertising in this newspaper. Clinical opinions are not peer reviewed and thus should be independently verified.