Dealing with a bed bug infestation can be a harrowing experience. Fortunately, we know that bed bugs do not carry any diseases. They can not, and do not, transmit diseases to their human victims. However, that doesn’t mean that they do not affect our health.
One of the most unfortunate, and rarely discussed, aspects of a bed bug infestation is the accompanying trauma. The mental health ramifications of a bed bug infestation are often ignored but they are very real and can have a lasting impact on people living through a full-scale bed bug invasion.
The Two Categories of Bed Bug Fear
In a recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine a team of researchers monitored the psychological effects of bed bug infestations on a sampling of victims. Their report showed that those effects closely mirrored the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While more study is necessary, the initial results proved a long-lasting mental health impact of bed bugs on their human hosts.
The study ultimately divided bed bug fears into two basic categories:
- The Real Fear – This is the natural fear and trauma experienced by people currently dealing with a bed bug infestation.
- The Perceived Fear – This is the fear and anxiety that often manifests in people who have experienced a bed bug infestation in their past. It also appears in people who fear a potential infestation in the future or are mistaking the appearance of other insects in their home as bed bugs.
Both of these categories can have an adverse impact on our overall mental health. Ultimately, it is the uncertainty associated with bed bug infestations that drives the victim’s fears. Worrying about bed bugs infesting, or re-infesting, your home wears on the nerves. In extreme cases it can even become debilitating.
What are the Symptoms of Bed Bug Trauma?
Dealing with a bed bug infestation can be a stressful experience. There’s a lot to handle over and above the bites and irritation. During an infestation you have to pack and wash your belongings, call in a bed bug removal team and, in extreme cases, vacate your home while the exterminators do their work. Then there’s the clean-up after treatment. It’s a lot to deal with and it can be exhausting – mentally and physically.
Even after a successful treatment there can be lingering effects. It’s natural to worry that the bed bugs may return and that uncertainty can lead to a variety of symptoms associated with bed bug trauma. The most common of these symptoms include:
- Trouble Sleeping – Whether the fear is real or perceived it can be difficult for people who have been through an infestation to relax and fall asleep. Restful sleep is critical to physical and mental health. In some cases problems sleeping can extend to anxiety induced nightmares.
- Social Withdrawal – A bed bug infestation can happen to anyone. It is not a reflection on the family’s cleanliness or lifestyle. But there is still a stigma attached to having bed bugs. Some people may feel they won’t be welcome in other people’s homes if they learn about the infestation. This can lead to people self isolating out of fear that they will be harshly judged by their neighbors or, worse, spread the bed bugs to a friend’s home. Extended periods of social withdrawal can have an adverse impact on our mental health.
- Anxiety and Depression – The stigma that is so often, and wrongly, associated with having bed bugs can adversely affect a person’s self-image. While bed bugs do not discriminate, and there is no shame in finding yourself dealing with an infestation, it can often lead to bouts of anxiety and depression. This can be particularly acute if the person is dealing with the effects of bed bug bites. The visible lesions, combined with the itching and irritation, can put a strain on our mental wellbeing.
- Exacerbating Other Mental Health Conditions – The stress of dealing with a bed bug infestation and its aftermath can often result in the worsening of some other mental health issues. People suffering from anxiety or depression often experience more severe symptoms when dealing with a bed bug outbreak. People with more severe mental health challenges may find dealing with a large scale bed bug infestation to be triggering and may require special attention throughout the process of inspection and removal.
Dealing with Bed Bug Trauma
Bed bug infestations can be challenging for anyone regardless of health or temperament. But for some people an infestation can be the trigger for a variety of mental health issues that should be clearly acknowledged and treated with patience and compassion.
For most of us the trauma will pass with time and a return to normalcy in the home. But for some people it may take extra time and the help fo friends, family and healthcare professionals. Don’t let the stigma associated with bed bugs color your opinion of those suffering through an infestation.
Published by Scott Palatnik
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