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How do emergencies impact mental health?

COVID-19 will impact everyone differently, we explore how people’s experiences may affect their mental health.
Boy at school with his head in his hands
© Public Health England

Traumatic events are events that are stressful, frightening or distressing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole of society is likely to be affected to some degree, including children, young people and adults.


  • Some people may have specific traumatic experiences such as getting the illness, bereavement, or being in quarantine
  • People may experience isolation or lack of social support if they need to stay at home to prevent the spread of the virus
  • People may experience difficulties accessing health service, for physical or mental health conditions
  • People may be fearful or worried about themselves or their families becoming sick
  • Children and young people may be worried or isolated if they are not able to go to school or see their friends
  • People may be worried about their financial circumstances due to lockdown measures

Some people may have no obvious signs of distress. Many people experience immediate distress, but they recover quickly. Others though may display considerable distress shortly after an event.

Most people will recover, given sufficient time and support. While a significant minority may not fully recover without interventions offered by health professionals.

People’s abilities to cope, and speeds of recovery are increased, if they are offered social support in the aftermath of a traumatic event.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Many people have heard of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

PTSD is relatively unusual after emergencies. People are as likely to develop anxiety disorders and depression, and more likely to develop problems with misuse of alcohol than they are to develop PTSD.

It is difficult to know who might suffer from it immediately after traumatic events as diagnoses are not made until symptoms have persisted for at least a month. Providing PFA can reduce the risk of people developing PTSD.

© Public Health England
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COVID-19: Psychological First Aid in Africa

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