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MERS survivors sustain lasting PTSD from stigma: study

Social stigma against victims of infectious disease detrimental to mental health, COVID-19 confirmed patients also at risk

(Seoul National University Hospital)
(Seoul National University Hospital)
Victims of emerging infectious disease suffer post-traumatic stress disorder due to social stigma, Seoul National University Hospital said Monday, prompting a renewed look at how COVID-19 confirmed patients are framed in the popular narrative.

SNUH, together with National Medical Center, conducted a follow-up study on the psychological aftereffects of EID on 63 Koreans who had contracted and survived the Middle East respiratory syndrome in 2015.

A total of 186 patients are registered in the national database as confirmed MERS patients. Among them, 38 have passed away from the disease. Of the remaining 148 survivors, 63 completed the psychological assessments.

The study indicated that a year after the MERS outbreak, 54 percent of the studied subjects still displayed at least one symptom of PTSD, depression, suicidality or insomnia that was significantly above the clinical threshold.

Of the participants, 42.9 percent had PTSD ranging from mild to very severe; 27 percent suffered depression; 22.2 percent harbored moderate to high levels of suicidal behavior; and 28 percent had insomnia.

The study recognized that the stronger the societal stigma and anxiety had been against the infected patients, the more risk of PTSD they had. On the contrary, the level of infection the patients suffered had no lasting impact.

The researchers behind the study emphasized that while the government and societal reactions to MERS and COVID-19 differ in many ways, the awareness of sociopsychological impact can help shape the victims’ mental health than the actual severity of the infection.

The full study, published May 15 in BMC Public Health, can be accessed online under the title “Posttraumatic stress disorder and depression of survivors 12 months after the outbreak of MERS in Korea.”

Researchers from Chungnam National University Hospital, Seoul Medical Center and Dankook University Hospital also participated in the study.

By Lim Jeong-yeo (