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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 3 March 2021

Stress disorders normally seen in medics creeping into general population

Psychologists report increase in cases of PTSD and 'battle fatigue' in those most affected by Covid-19

A significant rise in people seeking help for psychological stress disorders has been reported by specialist psychiatrists in Dubai during the Covid-19 pandemic. Getty Images
A significant rise in people seeking help for psychological stress disorders has been reported by specialist psychiatrists in Dubai during the Covid-19 pandemic. Getty Images

The number of people seeking help for psychological stress disorders related to Covid-19 has risen significantly, according to a report by specialist psychiatrists in Dubai.

The pandemic's effect on the mental health of hospital workers has been well documented, with experts now revealing that the trend has filtered into the general population.

Post traumatic stress disorder is one of the most common diagnoses in patients spending prolonged periods in hospital, or those who witness the struggles of loved ones struck down by the virus.

There has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking help regarding their mental health problems and PTSD has been common

Dr Haseeb Rohilla, Priory Wellbeing Centre

“Since the start of the pandemic, there has been a significant increase in the number of people seeking help regarding their mental health problems and PTSD has been common,” said Dr Haseeb Rohilla, a psychiatrist at the Priory Wellbeing Centre, Dubai.

“Their symptoms are very similar to those who are healthcare professionals in the hospitals and are witnessing patients struggle as well as family members, friends and others.”

Common PTSD stressors include the diagnosis of a life-threatening illness either in yourself or a loved one, sudden death of a friend or family member, or witnessing the death or serious injury of another.

Symptoms usually involve intrusive and uncontrollable re-experiencing of aspects of the trauma that present in the form of fragmented images, memories, flashbacks, distressing dreams or nightmares of the traumatic event.

Some individuals may deliberately mentally shut off to avoid remembering the traumatic experience, while others experience diminished interest in activities in general, a sense of detachment and emotional numbness.

“Recovery from PTSD is greatly aided by good social support, and family and friends can play a vital role,” Dr Rohilla said.

“Without [treatment] the condition may follow a chronic course over many years with eventual transition to an enduring personality change.”

Several published and peer-reviewed studies related previous viral outbreaks with PTSD among health professionals.

The severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers), and the 2009 novel influenza A (H1N1) were all associated with mental health issues among healthcare workers.

Research by King’s College London found almost half of staff working in intensive care units in England during the Covid-19 pandemic also suffered severe anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Counsellors in Dubai said that trend was now being replicated in those most affected by the virus outside of hospital professionals.

Marie Byrne, who runs a wellness clinic in Dubai and volunteers as a counsellor for the National Programme for Happiness and Well-being, said people with covid-related anxiety are experiencing "battle fatigue".

“Since September, the reasons people are coming to the clinic have changed,” she said.

“Most people now have issues related to anxiety from Covid-19 that are presenting in stress disorders. They have been in battle against covid for a year, and there will still be uncertainty about what happens in the future."

The mental health support line is one of the main initiatives under the umbrella of the Higher National Committee for Regulating Volunteering.

Ms Byrne is one of 16 volunteers providing support and counselling to those who need it most, usually over the phone but also via WhatsApp messaging through the national programme.

“There is always an Arabic and English speaker on shift at a time, so the service is open to all,” she said.

“It is a well-organised service that is in demand.”

Those in need can call the free helpline on 800 4673 or send a WhatsApp message on the same number between 8am and 8pm daily.

Updated: February 24, 2021 11:11 AM

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