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What are the long-term mental health effects of COVID-19?

Posted: 9:25 AM, Mar 17, 2021
Updated: 2021-03-17 23:24:01-04

BALTIMORE — Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD is a disorder in which a person has difficulty recovering after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event.

With the chaos of the past year, it's left many wondering the long-term mental health effects of being in a pandemic.

Dr. Rachna Raisinghani, Chair of the Department of Psychiatry at GBMC and Medical Director for the Division of Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry at Sheppard Pratt says that the condition usually develops a few weeks after someone is exposed to a seriously traumatic event, but that the degree of trauma may vary for different people as some individuals have different thresh-holds for developing PTSD.

"With COVID, there have been exposures to trauma at different levels, such as people who have become so sick, they've had to come into a hospital or go to an ICU for treatment of their respiratory symptoms from COVID," Dr. Raisinghani explained. "There are healthcare workers or emergency workers who've been seeing a lot of patients in the hospitals in emergency rooms. There could be people working in morgues that have seen a lot of dead bodies or corpses from people that have passed away from COVID. So, you know, collectively there have been a lot more traumatic events that have contributed to PTSD."

The doctor says that some of those core symptoms one may be having is possibly flashbacks or nightmares, symptoms of detachment or the blocking of memories, even getting easily startled or irritated by different things.

Raisinghani says there's clinical PTSD and then there's the colloquial use of the term PTSD, where some people might be trying to say 'I'm stressed out or worried by what has happened.'

"If the degree of what distress someone is experiencing is mild, it's not very disruptive to their day-to-day life. Then just like with many other conditions, if they are mild at first, try to do some kind of self-help including paying attention to the basics of being healthy, reaching out to a trusted friend or family member and just sharing your feelings with them."

However, if this distress is beginning to get disruptive and is affecting your work ability, sleep or ability to interact with others, it doesn't hurt to seek professional help.

That's another stress many people around the country are facing: interacting in the real world again.

For many of us, we've been following the rules, staying inside and doing our best to stay vigilant. And while that may have protecting our physical health, some may be worried about the lasting affects of lack of social interaction on the mental side of things.

So as we transition out of the pandemic and back into the so-called "new normal", it's important to not overwhelm yourself. Take things one step at a time, and as with most things – in moderation.

Dr. Raisinghani says it's important to not do a complete 180, but to introduce one activity after another.

"Then, as in when guidelines allow it, reintroducing those activities, one by one, feeling comfortable in that, then moving on to the next one till individuals and then society as a whole get back to where hopefully where we were before, or maybe moving on with a new normal."

Raisinghani notes that there's lots of reasons to be optimistic about the future, but there's still a lot of reason to be cautious too at the same time and to not throw caution to the wind just yet.