People who were seriously ill at the hospital with coronavirus need to be examined urgently for post-traumatic stress disorders, say top doctors.
The Covid Trauma Response Task Force, led by University College London and involving specialists from south-east England, said those in intensive care were most at risk.
Experts said regular checkups should last at least a year.
More than 100,000 people were treated at the hospital for the virus.
Experts say tens of thousands of them would be seriously ill enough to be at risk for PTSD.
The working group highlighted research that showed that 30% of patients who had suffered serious illnesses in outbreaks of infectious diseases in the past developed PTSD, while depression and anxiety problems were also common.
‘It was like being in hell’
Tracy is just one of many people who have been left with psychological scars from her experience with coronavirus.
She was admitted to Whittington Hospital in north London in March and spent more than three weeks there – one of them in intensive care.
“It was like being in hell. I saw people dying, people with their lives being sucked into them. All the employees have masks on and all you saw were eyes – it was so lonely and scary.”
Since being discharged in April, the 59-year-old woman has been struggling to sleep because of the thought that she will die and she constantly suffers flashbacks.
She is now receiving counseling.
“It has been very difficult. Physically, I am so tired. I am starting to recover, but the mental side is very difficult to deal with.”
“I have a good support network of family and friends and I am a positive person – and I am struggling. I think there will be many people who are in a similar, if not worse, situation.”
‘Variable’ support available
UCL psychiatrist Michael Bloomfield, who is part of the Covid working group, said patients who ended up in the hospital will face a “very scary and invasive” experience and, along with long-term complications, would be at risk for stress . difficulties related to mental health.
He said the unique nature of the pandemic, which meant that patients were isolated from the family while in the hospital, could also make problems worse.
“We need to guarantee support for these patients. The existing services are very variable. If you don’t do more, it could have long-term consequences.”
An NHS England spokesman said it was clear that the pandemic “has turned lives upside down”.
He said that all Covid survivors who remain in the hospital will have a follow-up appointment with their family doctor or hospital staff, where their mental health will be assessed.
They were also able to ask for psychological support, he added.