Psychological distress related to COVID-19 – The contribution of continuous traumatic stress

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Objective: The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is a substantial stressor that could eventuate in psychological distress. Evidence suggests that individuals previously exposed to traumatic events, and particularly to continuous traumatic stress (CTS), might be more vulnerable to distress when facing additional stressors. This study aimed to investigate these suppositions in the context of the ongoing shelling of Israel from the Israel-Gaza border, which continues even amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Method: An online survey was conducted among Israel's general population. The sample included 976 participants. Seven-hundred-and-ninety-three participants had been exposed to traumatic events, with 255 participants reporting CTS. Trauma exposure, COVID-19-related stressors, and psychological distress related to COVID-19 (anxiety, depression, and peritraumatic stress symptoms) were assessed. Results: Most participants reported experiencing at least one psychiatric symptom related to COVID-19. Being younger, female, not in a relationship, having a below-average income, being diagnosed with the disease, living alone during the outbreak, having a close other in a high-risk group, and negatively self-rating one's health status were associated with elevated distress. Individuals who had been exposed to trauma, and to CTS in particular, had elevated anxiety, depression, and peritraumatic stress symptoms compared to individuals without such a history or to survivors of non-ongoing traumatic events. CTS moderated the relations between PTSD symptoms, anxiety symptoms, and peritraumatic stress symptoms, with significantly stronger relations found among individuals exposed to CTS. Limitations: This study relied on convenience sampling. Conclusions: Trauma survivors, and particularly traumatized individuals exposed to CTS, seem at risk for psychological distress related to COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish
Article number12316
JournalJournal of Affective Disorders
StatePublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • COVID-19
  • Continuous traumatic stress
  • Posttraumatic stress symptoms
  • Psychological distress
  • Trauma exposure


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