PTSD after COVID-19: ‘No doubt’ it’ll happen,’ says NIMH director

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — The after-effects of the coronavirus pandemic — which still has no foreseeable end — will likely last long after the worst of the disease has receeded.

“I have no doubt that there are some people who have a diagnosable mental illness — depression, anxiety disorder, post traumatic stress disorder — as a result of COVID,” Dr. Joshua A. Gordon, director of the National Institute of Mental Health, told the Daily Beast. “That happens after any emergency.”


People who are facing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255. More than 100 local crisis centers are a part of a national network working on this lifeline and are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


At the onset and throughout the pandemic, health experts have warned Americans to remain vigilant of their mental health as communities grew distanced, work became home-bound and outings became dangerous.

An August Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 53% of U.S. adults reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to COVID-19 stress — back in March, that number was 32%.

Stress and anxiety over the coronavirus has impacted U.S. adults’ sleep, eating and substance use, and worsening of chronic conditions, the KFF poll shows.

(Courtesy of KFF)

Concerningly, KFF reports, during the Great Recession, the U.S. unemployment rate rose to 10% and was associated with increases in suicide rates.

Worries over possible job loss and income can also be big triggers for mental health crises. Models created by Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute, a nonprofit in Texas, suggest that if unemployment ultimately rises 5 percentage points (relatively close to the Great Recession numbers) an additional 4,000 people may die of suicide and 4,800 more from drug overdoses, according to WaPo.

If unemployment rises above that, to levels seen during the Great Depression, however, Meadows says deaths by suicide could increase by 18,000 and overdose deaths by over 22,000.

“These projections are not intended to question the necessity of virus mitigation efforts,” authors of the Meadows report say, “but rather to inform health system planning.”

In May, Susan Borja, traumatic stress research program leader at NIMH, told the Washington Post she worries about the people who will fall through the cracks due to a boom in need and funding that was already low.A few mental health problems experts are watching for included depression, substance abuse and PTSD.

What can you do to help friends/family?

Texas Suicide Prevention says knowing the signs can be the first step in saving someone’s life.

According to TSP, these are the 10 Warning Signs of Suicide:

  1. Preoccupation with death and dying
  2. Drastic changes in behavior or personality
  3. A recent severe loss (such as a relationship) or threat of a loss
  4. Unexpected preparations for death such as making out a will
  5. Giving away prized possessions
  6. A previous suicide attempt
  7. Uncharacteristic impulsiveness, recklessness, or risk-taking
  8. Loss of interest in personal appearance
  9. Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  10. Sense of hopelessness about the future

Additionally, Texas Suicide Prevention says asking a friend or family directly if they’ve ever thought of suicide lets them know you take their situation seriously and want to help.

If someone tells you they have contemplated suicide, you should evaluate the level of risk based on various circumstances, for instance whether they’ve planned doing it, if they’ve made previous attempts, availability of means of suicide, substance abuse history, and more.

If it seems likely that someone could act on their suicidal thoughts, you should stay with them and try to get them to agree to get help immediately. If danger is imminent, you should call 911 for a mental health deputy.

While only future data will be able to explain the correlation between the pandemic and possible suicide spikes, it’s clear that COVID-19 has adversely affected mental health for many worldwide.

If you are facing a suicidal crisis or emotional distress, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.

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