Certain people who have experienced multiple bed bug infestations, will joke that they have bed bug PTSD. There’s a special kind of anxiety that bed bugs incite, which in fact, is not a joke. Research is starting to show that bed bug infestations cause more severe mental and emotional damage than physical.
Mental and emotional symptoms from bed bugs include:
- Disturbed Sleep
Stephane Perron, a researcher at the University of Montreal, claims that if you have had bed bugs “You should be worried. I would consider it a normal reaction to a stressor.”
Perron has published many papers on the psychological ramifications caused to people that experience bed bugs. In one particular study, Perron looked at apartments with reported bed bug cases, and of those sampled, tenants with bed bugs were far more likely to experience anxiety and depression than those without.
Another study conducted were posts on bed bug forums like bedbugger.com. It was found that around 80% of people who were writing on these forums were describing real symptoms related to PTSD such as hyper-vigilance, paranoia, obsessive thoughts, and depression.
Can you get PTSD From Bed Bugs?
There are many reasons why these tiny insects cause so much suffering. Bed bugs purposely strike when you’re asleep and at your most vulnerable. They spread rapidly and attack you when you’re least likely to defend yourself, and apply a numbing agent from their bites so you don’t feel their presence.
Once the anxiety starts, every tiny movement, every molecule that touches your skin the wrong way is now a bed bug.
Below is an example of the psychological effects of bed bugs causing PTSD (originally written on INSIDER).
Rebecca Ross had been living in her new Minneapolis apartment for only a week when she started noticing the bugs. Having grown up in the rural Midwest, the 25-year-old wasn’t afraid of insects. But these were unfamiliar.
First, there were only a few. Then, she started noticing them in clumps. Dozens of the bugs were crowded in corners, between cracks in furniture, and most of all near the bed.
She sent a picture to maintenance, who replied with a damning diagnosis: Ross’s new place was infested with bed bugs. The insects, which resemble of apple seeds and feed on human blood, “infest virtually anywhere humans congregate” and are on the rise, according to the National Pest Management Association.
Still, Ross’s landlord said he needed confirmation before he could send an exterminator, so Ross began collecting the critters in clear plastic bags.
A month later, the bugs had laid and hatched eggs inside the bags, filling them with swarms of tiny, hungry baby bed bugs called nymphs. And still no exterminator came.
Since her move-in day more than four months ago, Ross has gotten rid of all her big furniture, including her bed. She’s stored her clothes and other items in garbage bags, and invested in an expensive heat-treatment system to kill the bed bugs.
Ross is looking for a new apartment, but the psychological scars remain.
She’s constantly roused by her two cats’ slightest movement or touch, and rarely sleeps more than three hours a night. She’s missed work, and the depression and anxiety she already lived with have gotten worse. Friends have refused to visit and she’s begun startling at odd marks on the floor or furniture, seeing bugs where there aren’t any.
“I know for awhile I’m going to be on edge,” she said.
Don’t have a Nervous Breakdown over Bed Bugs
The good news about bed bugs (if there truly is any) is that they don’t transmit physical disease. “Bed bugs are particularly disturbing because they invade such an intimate and personal space says “Katherine Maloy, MD, a professor of psychiatry at NYU Health in New York City.
Your bedroom is the place where you wind down from a long day of work, a safe space for you and your loved ones. The thought that this can be infiltrated by hundreds of tiny creatures can certainly incite fear, and distress, even after the infestation is long over.
Maloy believes this fear can fall into two main categories:
A Real Fear: Those who are currently in the midst of an infestation
A Perceived Fear: People who are afraid they have bed bugs even when that’s not the case. About half the time, a homeowner mistakes another bug for a bedbug. Carpet beetles for instance look like bed bugs but are actually completely harmless.
Living through bed bugs can be an emotional rollercoaster, especially after dealing with the logistics of curing an infestation.
Everything you have to go through including:
- Packing up, washing, or throwing out your belongings
- Vacating your home for a few weeks
- Dealing with pest control professionals
- Communications with hotel management or landlord
- Gathering evidence for a possible bed bug lawsuit to receive compensation
- Crafting a bed bug demand letter
- Seeking medical attention for your injuries
All of the above activities can be time consuming and socially isolating because if people find out you’re infested, they won’t want to come over or be around you. On top of this logistical nightmare, there’s a long period of just waiting in limbo to see if bed bugs return after the initial treatment.
Within this brings major uncertainty…
“Are bed bugs gone, or are they not gone?”
“Will they return? If so when?”
“If they return? Will it be as bad as the last time?”
These questions and uncertainty are a lot for someone to tolerate. Requiring a person to balance their regular lives and obligations, while in the midst or aftermath of a bed bug infestation is a lot to ask.
The Top 5 Bed Bug Mental Symptoms
Anxiety & Depression – Katherine Maloy says dealing with bed bugs can be troubling to one’s self-image and self-worth, especially when injuries are not dealt with properly.
Flashbacks – It’s common for victims to have recurring flashbacks about infestations that happened in the past. These recurring events can be very stressful and will interrupt daily life
Social Withdrawal – Getting infested by bed bugs is not at the fault of the victim or related to the victim’s cleanliness. Yet the social stigma of bed bugs is readily present, that victims may withdraw from their family and friends to avoid embarrassment. You think that people will see you differently or not want to interact with you.
Nightmares – Victims commonly experience recurring night terrors that can lead to disturbed sleep or the inability to fall asleep at all
Worsening of Existing Mental Health Issues – The time, money, and uncertainty, that are involved in an infestation can be stressful for anyone, especially those who are already in a vulnerable state. If you layer this on top of an existing disorder, it can be extremely debilitating.
According to Everyday Health, A case study from 2013 profiled a 60 year old woman with bipolar disorder who ultimately committed suicide shortly after a recurring bed bug infestation in her home.
How to Cope with Bed Bug Anxiety
If you do experience bed bugs, the first thing to prevent damage to your emotional health is not to panic. Even though infestations are disturbing, there are ways to eradicate bedbugs, such as DIY methods, heat treatments, or calling a certified pest control professional.
Either way, infestations can definitely threaten your mental health, so if you’re struggling with an infestation you should take the following steps to protect your emotional well-being.
- Treat the infestation quickly and efficiently: Make sure you ask for help so the problem doesn’t get worse.
- Recognize this isn’t your fault: People get infestations even at the world’s most luxurious hotels. You should recognize that bed bugs can affect anyone at anytime.
- Seek professional help if needed: Remember that you don’t need to deal with this alone so reach out to a professional if you need to.
- Determine if you’re eligible for compensation: If you were bitten in a hotel or apartment you may be eligible for compensation for monetary and non-monetary damages.
If you or a loved one has fallen victim to a bed bug infestation – Get in touch an expert today!