Feature Article in the Daily Mail Online: NHS Staff: What is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how is it treated?

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Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that typically develops after a person experiences a traumatic event. The manifestation of PTSD can vary among individuals, but it usually involves a combination of the following symptoms:

1. Flashbacks and nightmares, where the person relives the traumatic event.
2. Low mood and an inability to experience pleasure.
3. Heightened levels of arousal, leading to a constant state of being on edge.
4. Dissociative symptoms include feeling disconnected from oneself and perceiving the surrounding people and objects as unreal.

To receive a diagnosis of PTSD, an individual must have been exposed to a life-threatening situation, exhibit a range of the symptoms above, and experience them for more than a month.

It is important to note that some individuals may develop symptoms of PTSD without meeting the clinical threshold for a formal diagnosis. Even though their symptoms may not be severe enough, they can still be distressing.

The specific impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on healthcare professionals and medics is challenging to predict. However, looking at previous pandemics, such as the SARS epidemic from 2002-2004, research showed a high prevalence of PTSD symptoms, anxiety, fear, depression, and frustration among healthcare staff.

Common symptoms experienced by healthcare professionals during the SARS epidemic included intrusive and recurrent thoughts about the events witnessed while caring for patients, difficulties with sleep, memory and concentration, anger outbursts, avoidance of work-related activities and places, and heightened vigilance. These symptoms persisted for up to three years after the SARS outbreak.

Prolonged psychological distress can also lead to the development of physical health conditions, emphasizing the importance of addressing mental well-being.

Social support from friends, family, colleagues, and line managers are crucial protective factors for both medical and non-medical staff.

Establishing clear boundaries between work and home life is also essential, especially for individuals involved in helping people in distress.

Engaging in physical exercise, taking time off, and continuing to participate in enjoyable activities can help mitigate the symptoms of PTSD.

Offering compassion to those experiencing distress and cultivating self-compassion is crucial. Self-compassion involves being kind to oneself, recognizing factors within one’s control, and accepting those beyond control.

If symptoms of distress persist for several weeks, it may be advisable to consult a GP and consider a referral to a form of talking therapy. Some employees may have access to a counsellor through their Employee Assistance Programme, which can be beneficial.