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PTSD and Covid-19

A: There are several aspects to this question, which we will address separately before putting it together. 



Is what I am feeling actually depression or just anxiety? 

A good deal of what people are feeling during these times of intense change to our routine is a response to change itself. We like routine, in fact we thrive on it. Routine allows us to give a structure to our lives which frees us to break down our moments into blocks that we can then fill with small tasks that need to be taken care of. The stay-at-home requirements used to safeguard the community from major outbreaks of the virus have removed this routine.


Bereft of the routine, a person has to restructure their life. A restructuring of life is a source of stress, similar to the death of a beloved pet or a change of occupation or a move to a new location. Stresses such as these cause a generalized feeling of anxiety. Until and unless this anxiety can be addressed and confronted, it settles in, festers, and becomes a new form of routine.


Depression however is also a possible result of these triggers. A professional mental-health caregiver can be of great help in performing a set of tests to determine if your sadness is intense anxiety or actual clinical depression.


Is PTSD the trigger of my feelings?


“PTSD” and “trigger” are words that are often used together. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it. Symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares and severe anxiety, as well as uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Therefore the virus that causes Covid-19 is probably not the trigger causing these feelings, unless you have been the caregiver of someone who has been the victim of the virus or are a recovering victim yourself.


That leaves us with several possibilities. If indeed you have been directly impacted by the virus, either your own body or that of a loved one, traumatic stress may be settling into your muscles. If however the simple reality of the virus out in the world around us is what has you feeling anxious, then PTSD would not be what is being triggered. 


None of this is meant to diminish the reality of your feelings. Whether it is caused directly by PTSD or not, the feelings need to be addressed. We are social creatures. We are not meant to deal with our problems alone. And yet so many of us are forced into solitary situations so as to do our part to help protect the community at large. 


Do not hesitate to reach out to a mental health specialist to help you sort out the source of your depressed feelings. We are all in a situation where we are focusing on health, ours and everyone else’s as well. Do not let your mental health take a back seat to your physical health.

David Salvage, MD, FAPM

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