Zoey Deutch powerfully highlights the link between coronavirus and survivor’s guilt

“I had a sore throat and felt totally delirious, like I was losing my mind,” writes the star of Netflix’s Set It Up

There are now 5.1 million confirmed cases of people with Covid-19 around the globe, according to the World Health Organisation. Over 330,000 people have died from the disease.

As we all know from the endless slew of news reports, the novel coronavirus impacts people in different ways. Some who have been diagnosed with the illness have experienced mild cold-like symptoms. Others have been bedridden for several days, battling fevers and persistent coughs. And then, of course, there are those who have lost their lives.

Now, in a powerful new essay, Set It Up’s Zoey Deutch has opened up about her experience with and recovery from coronavirus – and addressed the mixed emotions she has felt in the aftermath, including a sense of guilt.

The Netflix star explained that she and a group of her friends contracted the virus “early on, before [lockdown],” though she began to self-isolate before state governments issued stay-at-home orders. Deutch continued to test positive for a month – “longer than they’re saying you’re supposed to” – and experienced the typical sore throat, as well as a sense of delirium.

“I felt totally delirious, like I was losing my mind,” Deutch writes for Vulture. “[But] it was different than the normal ‘me feeling like I’m losing my mind.’”

In the essay, Deutch goes on to explain that she’s “so grateful for my health” but added that she feels “guilty, in a way, for making it out OK.”

Survivor’s guilt, of course,is something that people experience when they’ve survived a life-threatening situation that others might not have. It is commonly seen among Holocaust survivors, war veterans, lung-transplant recipients, airplane-crash survivors, and those who have lived through natural disasters such as earthquakes, fires, tornadoes, and floods.

Now, mental health experts have warned that people are at risk of developing survivor’s guilt as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Licensed clinical social worker Robert Taibbi, writing in Psychology Today, has explained that a number of his patients have expressed feelings of guilt.

“Their jobs are, right now at least, still intact while many of their friends are suddenly out of work,” he notes. “So far they and their immediate and extended family are remaining healthy while coworkers are ill or they hear about the rising death tolls [elsewhere].

“They have to quarantine but they are quarantined in a comfortable house with electricity, water, etc., compared to others in less-developed places, prisons, or refugee camps where folks are crowded together, had few comforts to begin with, and now things can only get drastically worse.”

As Taibbi notes: “This is a different form of survivor’s guilt, but a form of survivor’s guilt nonetheless.”

Elsewhere, Dr. Neha Chaudhary, child and adult psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, has warned ABC News that, while it’s natural for feelings of wrongdoing to linger, they can sometimes develop into something more serious.

“It may occur by itself, or as part of a broader, more longstanding syndrome called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) that can develop in response to a traumatic event,” she says.

“If a person is experiencing certain symptoms like flashbacks, jumpiness or nightmares for longer than a month, they may want to see their doctor to get evaluated for a trauma-related condition like PTSD.”

However, Chaudhary goes on to say that recovery can also be part of a healing process. Indeed, she adds that, if possible, people who recover from Covid-19 should try to focus their feelings toward community building and self-improvement.

It is for this reason, perhaps, that Deutch has turned her attention towards those who aren’t following social distancing guidelines.

“So many people don’t show symptoms, and my experience was that me and my friends who got it all had such drastically different symptoms,” she writes.

“I hate to sound like I’m trying to be preachy, but it’s so important to wear a mask when you go out, even if you think you’re OK and think you don’t have it or think it’s allergies. You just don’t know if you have it or not.”

Deutch adds: “I really want to be able to donate blood and get groceries for people who haven’t had it and be more of service than I have been able to. I am so lucky to be healthy, that I’m safe and not immunocompromised, and have access to doctors; I am incredibly privileged.

“But not everyone shares that privilege – so we need to be extra careful for [them].”

Of course, masks are not mandatory in the UK yet. However, the government has advised that, for the time being, you:

  • stay at home as much as possible.
  • work from home if you can.
  • limit contact with other people 
  • keep your distance if you go out (2 metres apart where possible)
  • wash your hands regularly.
  • do not leave home if you or anyone in your household has symptoms.

According to the NHS, it’s normal to experience upsetting and confusing thoughts after a traumatic event, but most people improve naturally over a few weeks.

You should see a GP if you or your child are still having problems about 4 weeks after the traumatic experience, or if the symptoms are particularly troublesome.

If necessary, your GP can refer you to mental health specialists for further assessment and treatment.

Images: Getty

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