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Trauma of intensive care unit survivors

NHS chiefs warn of mental health crisis

29 May, 2020 — By Tom Foot

NHS chiefs are predicting a “public mental health crisis” will follow further lifting of the lockdown as the psychological toll of the last two months is revealed. Managers at Camden and Islington Foundation NHS Trust have warned of a “surge in demand”, particularly in cases of anxiety and depression.

In a new report detailing a list of serious challenges facing the service, they said they have already noticed a rise in “complex grief reactions to the pandemic”, including the “new phenomenon” of “double bereavement” – for example when children suffer twice through break-up of the family unit and death of a relative.

Patients, meanwhile, who had been treated for severe reactions to the coronavirus in hospital intensive care units are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the report says, leading to an increase in referrals.

Personality disorders could also rise due to trauma of the Covid-19 experience.

“Evidence from China leads us to expect a heightened public mental health crisis,” the report said. “We expect an upswing of depression and anxiety for both new and existing service users. Anecdotally, suicide attempts are also rising. There is evidence emerging of increased demand for PTSD, complex grief reactions, relapsing psychosis, depression and anxiety.”

Young and black and minority ethnic people appear to be the first to make their problems known to the health service, the authors said, Drug addicts have been suffering “an increase of acute withdrawals” due to lack of hard drugs on the streets.

They have been “turning to synthetic opioids”, Fentanyl – a risky substitute as the painkiller is 100 times more potent than heroin. Its use also leads to serious mental illness and increases chances of infection, the report suggests.

“Alcohol use appears to be increasing,” it added. The elderly, who have most strictly observed lockdown rules, will have “deteriorated due to isolation”, leading to a potential increase in dementia, while NHS staff have experiencing “increased pressure and distress caused by the crisis” and will “require psychological support”.

The impact of the lockdown is not the only cause for concern, however. A mental health worker, who did not want to be named, told the New Journal: “There is also a lot of thinking going on that people are going to struggle more coming out of the lockdown than they did going into it. There are a lot of questions people are asking right now. “Do you stop working from home? Do you go back to the office? Do you go and see your relatives again? Do you want people coming round to your home again?”

Earlier in the coronavirus outbreak, staff at the hospitals treating Covid-19 patients said that some doctors and nurses were struggling with PTSD amid the harrowing workload they were facing.

Sinead Hanton, a matron at the Royal Free, said: “The challenges have been enormous. I’m seeing a lot of stress, post-traumatic is going to start setting in, without a doubt. We are seeing that now.”

A Camden and Islington Foundation NHS Trust spokeswoman said: “In line with other providers, we are working hard to ensure that we are well-prepared to meet any increase in mental health need among our existing patient population and our wider community. This has involved close collaboration with our local health and social care partners and is in line with NHS England.”

l If you are suffering a mental health crisis, you can call 0203 317 6333 or contact your regular mental health team.

l The Samaritans offer free and confidential advice for anybody struggling on 116 123 or email

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