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While some of the high rates of post-traumatic stress (PTSD) seen in healthcare workers during the pandemic are specifically COVID-19-related, a more significant number of cases were linked to trauma that occurred earlier in their lives, researchers at the University of Oxford have found.

Tired healthcare worker sitting on the floor

Led by Department of Experimental Psychology Associate Professor Jennifer Wild, the study - published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology - assessed 103 frontline healthcare staff working directly with COVID-19 patients with clinical interviews,  considered the gold-standard approach to diagnosing mental health problems. 

Previous research conducted during the pandemic has reported high rates of PTSD, depression and other mental health symptoms amongst healthcare workers. However, that research has typically failed to assess if earlier trauma was linked to symptoms or when the symptoms began, making it difficult to conclude whether the high rates of symptoms were due to the pandemic.  Previous research has also relied on self-report measures of symptoms, a less accurate method of diagnosing mental health problems. 

The Oxford study significantly advances prior research as the researchers conducted in-depth diagnostic interviews. Researchers found that trauma linked to PTSD was more likely to relate to occupational or personal trauma that had occurred before the pandemic. Other key findings include:

  • Rates of PTSD were high at 44%, as were rates of depression at 39%.
  • 76% of healthcare staff reported trauma that was unrelated to the pandemic
  • However, 24% of healthcare workers reported a trauma that was related to their work during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Read the full story on the University of Oxford website

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