While some post-traumatic stress (PTSD) seen in healthcare workers during the pandemic was specifically related to their experience of Covid-19, a significant number of cases were linked to trauma that had occurred earlier in their lives, according to research from the University of Oxford.
A study of 103 frontline healthcare staff working directly with Covid-19 patients concluded that rates of PTSD were high, at 44%, as were rates of depression at 39%. Yet, more than three-quarters (76%) of healthcare staff reported trauma that was unrelated to the pandemic.
The research nevertheless found nearly a quarter (24%) of healthcare workers reported a trauma that was related to their work during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was an even split between occupational versus personal trauma linked to PTSD, where 52% of staff diagnosed with PTSD reported occupational trauma and 48% reported trauma that occurred in their personal lives as the index event associated with symptoms.
Study lead Professor Jennifer Wild, associate professor of experimental psychology, said of the findings: “They highlight the need to assess the trauma associated with PTSD symptoms as well as when the symptoms began. Only then can we be sure which trauma is linked to PTSD symptoms.
“This research helps to clarify the PTSD picture among healthcare workers. In the 76% of staff who had PTSD that was unrelated to the pandemic, it is likely that the stressful nature of working during the pandemic exacerbated symptoms or made it harder to recover from them. There was a significant minority, 24%, who did develop PTSD due to Covid-19 trauma.”
Although PTSD was more likely to have pre-dated the pandemic, major depressive disorder was more likely to develop during the pandemic, she also highlighted.
Dr Aimee McKinnon, a clinical research psychologist who assessed many of the healthcare workers, added: ‘The pandemic has drawn our attention to high rates of trauma and depression in healthcare workers. Our findings suggest that much of this difficulty was pre-existing and unrelated to the pandemic.
“This warrants specific focus in service planning to best understand and support the needs of the healthcare workers who look after us.”