Believe me, we will be in a LOT of trouble if half the people who usually go to in a crisis are themselves in crisis as a result of this pandemic experience. There will be more need and less available help - NHS mental health support was already cut to the bone before this virus hit us.

We need to think about how we can help shape and influence mental health support for survivors of COVID19 and key workers with a trauma-informed approach.

There are companies already working on this but processes and systems are understandably slow and the danger is that organisations and public services will become overwhelmed.

Based on my own experience of complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I foresee a lot of people, unaware they have underlying symptoms, could suffer a full-blown episode if they don’t have the right kind of support. The longer it takes to get the right help, the less chance there is of fully recovering, both physically and mentally.

There are two things about post-trauma reaction (full-blown PTSD) – that is when you are still experiencing the symptoms after six months or when it hits you out of nowhere years later – that truly worries me about our society.

Firstly, avoidance is a major problem which leads many people to turn to addictive substances and behaviour as they are in denial about their trauma, burying it until it leads them to crumble.

The knock-on effects of this are fairly obvious but can include outbursts of rage and violence, suicidal feelings, an increase in criminal and antisocial activity and a sudden inability to function properly; making mistakes in situations mistakes could cost lives. The way emergency services (especially police) have to respond in these situations can sometimes compound the problem because it has the potential to re-traumatise those individuals who don't know their behaviour is rooted in trauma.

The second major issue is sheer terror at any situation that reminds you, consciously or unconsciously, of the trauma. This can be horrible for everyone but if the scene of the trauma is your JOB or where you go for help (somewhere like a HOSPITAL for NHS workers for example) then all of us are potentially in trouble if a significant percentage of our key workers are suddenly unable to walk into their workplaces or even hear words associated with what they were doing when they were literally frightened for their lives every day for three months and more, unable to leave the situation or control it and having to suppress a lot of distress in order to just function.

Sometimes it isn't obvious what the trigger is. It could be the smell of the perfume someone was wearing while working beside you. Or it could be one particular patient who happens to look or sound like someone you had forgotten about, but at the time was in the midst of the most terrible day on your ward. It could even be a song. Or it could be the next time you have to wear PPE for something, even if it’s not COVID related.

What if even 25% of doctors can't breathe when someone calls them “doctor?”

We have never had so many in society all facing this at once before. Of course, I exaggerate to make the point, but maybe not that much...

I really can't emphasise enough here how vital early and appropriate intervention is. For some people, professional help will still be needed, particularly if they have prior experience of trauma or loss. But for many, the right approach can help alleviate symptoms or help manage them in a way that will allow the brain and body to heal themselves.

For the severely affected, understanding can at least help them to cope and not compound the trauma by feeling misunderstood, or like they have failed or left to undertake your bog-standard anxiety management course.

If we can educate people, including employers and support groups and helpline staff, and everyone in case they know someone who has been affected, we could make an incredible difference. Vulnerable people who have been alone and frightened and people who have had COVID19 could experience similar symptoms.

PTSD and suicide are linked.

I believe it is possible to raise awareness and provide helpful ways to at least understand what is happening,  to feel validated so you can begin some self-help and coping strategies while the inevitable long wait for therapy or counselling or NHS mental health intervention incurs.

The single most important thing here is to know your suffering, your feelings are real, and to reassure yourself or your friend, your colleague, your relative, an employee, a client, a service user, that they are demonstrating a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances; they are NOT going mad, but they do need time and space to process and recover and it is possible to.

Those of us who have survived trauma and live with PTSD can offer hope and encouragement.

Jo Bull – Founder, Erdington Community Volunteers, on behalf of the Erdington COVID19 Taskforce

Further information about Erdington COVID19 Taskforce:

The Erdington COVID19 Taskforce was established in April 2020. A network of local organisations representing a wide range of sectors, it works to support residents who have been adversely affected by the pandemic.

Targeting the vulnerable, isolated and elderly, it has developed several workstreams and co-ordinates resources to provide essential support services. In addition, it mobilises a squad of almost 250 volunteers to carry out tasks and activities across the district.

Taskforce Members

  • Edington MP Jack Dromey
  • Active Arts
  • Age UK Birmingham
  • Bethany Foodbank
  • Birmingham City Council
  • Birmingham Voluntary Services Council
  • Erdington Community Volunteers
  • Erdington Foodbank
  • Erdington Local
  • Polish Expats Association
  • Spitfire Services
  • The Active Wellbeing Society
  • The Pioneer Group
  • The Real Junkfood Project
  • Urban Devotion Birmingham
  • West Midlands Police

The Erdington COVID19 Taskforce is facilitated by Witton Lodge Community Association. For further information please contact Communications Officer, Steve Sharma, on 0121 382 1930 or email: [email protected]

For more information on the Taskforce, details of member organisations and to access available support, click here.