230,000 new PTSD referrals forecast as a result of the pandemic

Press release
03 December 2021
  • Expert modelling forecasts 230,000 new referrals for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) between 2020/21 and 2022/23 as a result of the pandemic.
  • 35% of Covid-19 patients put on a ventilator and 40% of intensive care staff report symptoms of PTSD, according to academic studies.
  • The Royal College of Psychiatrists is launching new resources for anyone experiencing PTSD or who has experienced a traumatic event. 
There could be 230,000 new referrals for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) across England as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic, according to modelling by The Strategy Unit. 

PTSD is a mental health condition where the intense negative emotions, thoughts and memories caused by a traumatic event persist and interfere with someone’s daily life.  

The pandemic has increased exposure to events with the potential to cause PTSD, with frontline health and care workers and survivors of severe Covid-19 at particularly high risk. 

Professor Neil Greenberg, expert editor of the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new patient resource, said:

“It’s a common misunderstanding that only people in the armed forces can develop PTSD - anyone exposed to a traumatic event is at risk. If left untreated it can ruin the lives of those who suffer from it as well as negatively affect their families, friends and colleagues.    
“However, clearly there are jobs, including working in many healthcare settings, where experiencing traumatic events is more common so the risk of developing PTSD is unfortunately much higher.  
“It’s vital that anyone exposed to traumatic events is properly supported at work and home. Early and effective support can reduce the likelihood of PTSD and those affected should be able to access evidence-based treatment in a timely manner. Especially our NHS staff who are at increased risk as a result of this unprecedented crisis.”   
A survey of 709 intensive care staff across six NHS hospitals in England carried out after the first wave found 40% reported symptoms consistent with PTSD. This is more than twice the rate found in military veterans with recent combat experience. 

Research published in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ BJPsych Open earlier this year found that 1 in 3 (35%) Covid-19 patients put on a ventilator go on to experience extensive symptoms of PTSD. 

Dee, 52, from Bristol, who became severely ill with Covid-19 last year, said:

“I experienced severe anxiety about my breathing problems. This included intrusive visions of not being able to breathe and of NHS staff in PPE suits taking me to hospital.  
“My sleep was badly affected and I started using alcohol as a coping mechanism. I have since tested positive for Covid-19 a second time which has been extremely traumatising. I'm struggling but I’m not confident that I can get the help I need." 
Symptoms of PTSD might start immediately after a traumatic event or they might start weeks or months later. Unfortunately, many people do not get the right help when their symptoms first develop, due to stigma, misunderstanding or lack of awareness. 

Several effective and evidence-based treatments for PTSD are available to patients, including trauma-focused cognitive behavioural therapy (TF-CBT), eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing (EMDR) and medication. 

The Royal College of Psychiatrists’ new resources provide more information for anyone who is experiencing PTSD or who has experienced a traumatic event.

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