Narratives of the worst experiences associated with peritraumatic distress during the COVID-19 pandemic: a mixed method study in the USA and Italy.
Sapkota, Ram P.
Background: Although symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) have been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic experiences, no study has explored yet the association of specific COVID-19 narratives with peritraumatic distress, the precursor of PTSD. Objective: To explore the worst experiences associated with peritraumatic distress during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Method: Adult residents (N = 1098), from the US (n = 741) and Italy (n = 357), completed an online survey including socio-demographic data, COVID-19-related experiences, the Peritraumatic Distress Inventory and an open question on their worst experiences during the first period of the COVID-19 pandemic (April–May 2020). A thematic content analysis(TCA) was conducted on the answers to the open question and a classification and regression tree (CART) analysis was used to identify the themes that best predicted the clinical levels of peritraumatic distress. Results: The main TCA themes related to participants’ worst COVID-19 experiences were anxiety, threat, loss, anger, stress and constriction. Threat was the most prevalent theme and correlated with experiences such as being quarantined, being infected and a loved one receiving the diagnosis. US participants’ descriptions of their worst experiences related more to life-threat and loss, while Italians reported more threat to the world, stress, social isolation, and feeling trapped. In the CART analysis, the main predictor (79.9%) was perceiving negative effects from the COVID-19 crisis. Among them, a COVID-related threat to self-experience was the most robust predictor. In its absence, being deprived of resources or experiencing high levels of anxiety were other robust predictors. Conclusions: The study provided evidence of the utility of a mixed-method approach in conceptualizing experiences associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and the risk of traumatic symptoms. Its findings may inform healthcare interventions and policies for tackling the new challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.