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SARS Patients Experience Mental Health Decline



"These data may help to highlight the needs of patients and caregivers during and after an epidemic, the potential benefit of a family-centred approach to followup care, and the importance of exploring strategies to minimize the psychological burden of an epidemic illness as part of future pandemic-planning initiatives

Survivors used health care services frequently the first year after hospitalization. "Psychiatric evaluation accounted for the greatest number of visits," the authors write. "Of the patients, 74 percent saw their primary care physician a median of five times. Infectious disease specialists assessed 72 percent of patients, mostly in the first three months after discharge." Caregiver surveys showed a decline in the mental health of caregivers, which was caused by reported lifestyle interference and loss of control.

The study noted that some of these patients were heavy users of mental health services during their recovery period; 51 required 668 visits to psychiatrists or psychologists.

Vicki McKenna, first vice-president of the Ontario Nurses Association, said some nurses remain off the job because of the emotional trauma they experienced.

"They have anxiety disorders such as panic attacks. It's a general feeling that they have even just driving by a hospital. They have an overwhelming sense of panic and fear," she said

The SARS patients experienced acute social stigmatization and loss of anonymity due to relentless media coverage, along with difficulties coping with quarantine and isolation, and overwhelming fear for their physical health and endangering their loved ones.

The study was supported by the Ontario Thoracic Society and Canadian Institutes of Health Research.


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