Almost daily we are learning new aspects about SARS-CoV-2 and its variants. Both in relation to the way it interacts with the cells it infects and the short-term consequences.

For a short time, it has also been known that it will have long-term implications. Thus, in the words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director general of the WHO, “recognizing the existence of persistent covid means not only seeing its individual impact, but also the social one.”

But the covid-19 is not only going to have consequences among those infected and their families, but also among first and second line workers. That is, both in the health, auxiliary and cleaning personnel, as well as in the security forces and bodies. Likewise, it will do so among the rest of the population that is exposed to restrictions and confinements based on what is established by the authorities to reduce the number of infections.

There are already publications that report an increase in addictions as a result of the current crisis situation. For example, in England, in a sample of 691 adults aged 35 to 64, they found an increase in alcohol consumption of 17% after confinement. This, in turn, was associated with further deterioration in mental health and the presence of depressive symptoms.

A repeated history

We tend to think of this as a unique situation in modern history. However, you only have to look at the African continent to understand that this is not the case. Pandemics are more present than we have been aware so far.

There is a fundamental element that distinguishes this situation from the previous ones. Until now, when there was a crisis, it used to be located in a town or country. Meanwhile, the rest of the countries sent provision and aid to try to alleviate the difficulties that citizens were experiencing.

Instead, the current crisis is more like world wars, where all or almost all countries, in one way or another, are involved in the face of the threat. In this case, contagion, having to survive on their own.

What have we learned?

When making comparisons of different crises, we wonder if the previous ones have served to learn from them. In relation to medical science, it is worth mentioning that it is precisely in difficult contexts that great advances have been made. Among them, those related to protocols and procedures or prevention and treatment measures.

A clear example of this has been the record time in which covid-19 vaccines have been developed. All of them are based on previous advances in vaccines to fight HIV and other previous pandemics. And in the psychological context?

As Paul Valent, a Holocaust survivor, explains in his latest book, entitled “Stress And Trauma In Pandemic Times”, Of which I am a co-author, previous crises, including wars, have made it possible to understand the fragility of human nature.

They have also helped to gradually recognize the impact of experiencing a crisis situation on the mental health of those on the front line and of the population in general.

So based on past crisis experiences, many people can be expected to have post-traumatic stress disorder. The ratio is higher between first and second line personnel in the fight against the current pandemic.

Likewise, in an investigation carried out with 12,596 nurses, a 39.3% increase in post-traumatic stress disorder was found. Therefore, the previous crises made it possible to know and understand how people exposed to situations that endanger their lives “break down”.

Therapies that flare up in difficult periods

But these delicate periods have also allowed the development of a series of techniques aimed at its treatment. For example, the logotherapy developed by Victor Frankl, who was also a Holocaust survivor, is a psychotherapy based on clinical observation of patients, which he divided between those who managed to assume the suffering they experienced and continued with their lives, and those who who could not overcome the traumatic situation experienced.

Logotherapy is based on the exploration of one’s own values ​​and the meaning of life as the fundamental axis of therapy. It allows the discovery of personal goals that will lead the patient to overcome their difficulties.

For his part, Paul Valent has developed the Fulfillment Therapy. It is based on his work as a psychotherapist with survivors who maintained psychological consequences of what they experienced ten or twenty years after the end of the Second World War.

Mental health in the face of wars and pandemics

It is worth mentioning that in the face of catastrophes or crisis such as the current one, there is a weakening of mental health in the general population. Thus, among the war combatants, symptoms began to be observed that could not be clearly cataloged in any of the previous diagnoses.

That is why the need to label the problem of the soldiers arose. This was characterized by difficulties in sleep and irritability but, above all, by flashbacks, in which they had the feeling of reliving traumatic situations previously experienced.

This set of symptoms is now called post-traumatic stress, which has been observed to increase its incidence in times of crisis. Especially with those who are on the front line of combat, which would be equivalent to medical personnel and security forces and bodies in the current pandemic.

Therefore, we currently have adequate tools for this type of situation. But it is important that the person who needs it comes for consultation, since the treatment allows a better recovery and avoids a lot of mental suffering.