Dealing with Post Pandemic Stress Disorder – PPSD

A mental health professional has spoken out about the potential mental health crisis which he believes may be triggered by COVID-19 and lockdown.

Psychotherapist Owen O’Kane has coined the term Post Pandemic Stress Disorder – PPSD – to describe the symptoms many of us are suffering as a result of the virus and its effects on our lives.

He says: 'A lot of people have been affected by trauma. Whether its PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or PPSD you won’t see the full impact at the time. You only see it a few months later. If we don’t take this seriously we are going to have a very unwell group in the population for years to come.'

Depression has doubled since COVID-19 

There is already evidence available that COVID-19 has taken its toll on our mental health. In the middle of 2020, one in five people in the UK was suffering from depression, that is double the number in 2019, according to the Office for National Statistics.

It is also recognised that those who have been directly affected by COVID-19 have already experienced diverse mental health problems. Commenting in The Psychiatric Times, Phebe Tucker and Christopher S. Czapla, MD says anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other trauma- and stress-related disorders have all being linked to COVID-19. They said: 'Different groups have met the qualifying criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) according to DSM-5 as a result of the pandemic: those who have themselves suffered from serious COVID-19 illness and potential death; individuals who, as family members and health care workers, have witnessed others’ suffering and death; individuals who have learned about the death or risk of death of a family member or friend due to the virus; and individuals who have experienced extreme exposure to aversive details (eg, journalists, first responders, medical examiners, and hospital personnel).’

However, mental health professionals are expecting to see a larger cohort of people affected by Post Pandemic Stress Disorder – not just those who have experienced large traumas, but also the little traumas-  all of which lead up to symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.

Triggers for Post Pandemic Stress Disorder

  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Illness
  • Stress associated with home-schooling children 
  • Not being able to access healthcare
  • Uncertainty over lockdown rules
  • Working from home
  • Lack of employment
  • Money worries
  • Indebtedness to those who have assisted us
  • Enforced time spent with dysfunctional families
  • Concerns over catching the virus
  • Long Covid

Anxiety is a key factor in Post Pandemic Stress Disorder, although the symptoms will vary from person to person.

Symptoms of anxiety linked to Post Pandemic Stress Disorder

  • Feeling nervous, tense and unable to relax 
  • Difficulty concentrating or thinking about anything other than your worries 
  • Worrying that your anxiety will make you ill, or that you are going mad 
  • Avoiding doing things because they make you anxious 
  • Palpitations, chest pain and finding it hard to breathe 
  • A stomach-churning sensation
  • Feeling like life is lacking in meaning
  • Feeling overwhelmed and unable to handle the anxiety

Psychologist Dr Michael Sinclair of City Psychology Group says many of us assume that anxiety is just part our personalities, but he believes with the right approach it need not control us. 

He explains that anxiety starts off as a logical response: ‘Anxiety is, essentially, fear, and it is our brain and body’s way of keeping us safe: when something appears that could be bad for us – anything from a snarling dog to a global pandemic – fear kicks in, and motivates us to do something about it.’

Dr Sinclair adds: ‘In the case of immediate threats such as snarling dogs, we often react reflexively, without much time to think. But in the case of most of the threats that we face nowadays, such as pandemics, we have lots and lots of time to think, and that is just what we do. In an effort to deal with the threat, we focus our thoughts upon it, exploring all possible eventualities, especially the most disastrous. This thinking is worry, and it fuels the state of anxiety.’

What is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)?

Along with Dr Elena Gil-Rodriguez and Dr Michael Eisen, Dr Sinclair has designed a programme described in The Little Anxiety Workbook, Reclaim Your Life with Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (Crimson £8.99), to help individuals tackle these debilitating symptoms.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a mindfulness-based behavioural therapy that aims to help patients to live feeling content and at peace, being aware of our thoughts, emotions and body sensations and letting them be as they are, rather than struggling against them or letting them control us. 

ACT integrates Eastern traditions and Western psychological therapies and its techniques has more than 400 randomised controlled trials (the gold standard for research on psychological therapies), supporting it.

You can find out more about ACT from City Psychology Group.

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