Covid-19 trauma can cause mental problems, experts warn

Experts say frontliners are at risk of developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder from treating patients who eventually died.

PETALING JAYA: Health experts have warned of threats to the mental well-being of frontliners in the fight against Covid-19 and also of recovered patients and their family members.

One expert said frontliners could develop symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from treating patients who eventually died and another said patients who underwent critical care could experience what he referred to as the “post-intensive-care syndrome”.

Dr Andrew Mohanraj, president of the Malaysian Mental Health Association, told FMT he would not be surprised to hear of frontliners afflicted with PTSD because of the helplessness they might have felt in watching their patients die.

“There could also be those who are severely decompensated by the trauma associated with the pandemic,” he added.

He also spoke of the possibility of relatives of the deceased going into depression “due to guilt or prolonged grief or pathological grief”.

Dr Philip George, who heads the International Medical University’s psychiatry department, said the post-intensive-care syndrome could look like a combination of physical and mental impairments, which would make it difficult for sufferers to go back to daily life after recovery.

He said it could manifest as muscle weakness or chronic pain as well as problems with concentration and memory.

“Delirium may feature in the acute stages of Covid-19, but in the long term there is the potential for mental health effects,” he said.

“As we have seen with the SARS and MERS-Cov infections, there can be an increase in cases of depression, anxiety, post-infection fatigue and PTSD after recovery.”

He said it was possible for the coronavirus to directly affect an individual’s central nervous system and physiology, which could then lead to psychiatric problems.

Dr Peter Voo of Universiti Malaysia Sabah’s Faculty of Psychology and Education said the stigma of having been a Covid-19 patient could affect a person’s mental well-being.

He said the effect would vary in severity between individuals, but those with low self-esteem, for example, could be particularly affected by ostracism from their communities.

George and Mohanraj noted reports of healthcare workers being marked by the stigma and ostracised even by their families.

George said the dissemination of accurate information on the virus would help prevent social discrimination against frontliners.

“This will in turn protect their mental well-being and help control this public health crisis effectively,” he added.

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