Mental Health Effects of Bed Bugs
Editor’s Note: Due to the stigma and mental health effects of bed bugs, the real names of those in this article affected by bed bugs have been changed. However their stories and locations are real.
As a pest management professional or landlord, you’ve seen the horrific physical results of bed bug infestations. But even worse? Are the unseen damages. We’re going to go over some common mental health effects of bed bugs including PTSD, insomnia, hopelessness, shame and embarrassment.
Research has shown that people who have dealt with bed bug infestations often report higher levels of mental health issues. This includes anxiety, depression, and insomnia.
And these ill-effects aren’t ending once the bugs are gone. Instead, people continue to suffer from bed bug related anxiety months, and sometimes years afterwards.
There are a number of ways bed bug infestations can impact mental health:
PTSD and Bed Bugs
The link between PTSD and bed bugs might not seem obvious at first. But a study published by Jerome Goddard of Mississippi State University suggests that the overlap might be more common than we ever thought.
After reviewing posts on a website dedicated to bed bug removal, he found that 81% of respondents’ mental health had been impacted by their infestation. Their symptoms are most closely aligned with PTSD. Goddard suggested some could possibly even be diagnosed as clinically positive with PTSD just on their postings alone.
When you think about it, it makes sense.
Having hundreds of small bugs crawling in your bed every night can leave you feeling helpless. It can also interrupt sleep for weeks on end. Goddard suggests it’s the feeling of helplessness specifically that contributes to triggering a PTSD response.
“It has destroyed the sanctity of my home. We have no escape. I see no light to getting rid of these bugs with the equipment we bought,” says Joyce from Maine from a recent survey. “I want my family and home together again.”
Joyce says the problem started in 2019 when she was given used baby furniture and other items.
“My daughter is 6 and sees new bites daily. She can no longer sleep in her or my bed. We can’t move, we can’t kill them,” she says. “We need a miracle before this destroys my family.”
Shame and Embarrassment
Bed bugs carry a stigma for every income level. The bugs don’t really care if they’re living in a dumpster or a 5 star hotel. They just want to be somewhere they know they can get their next meal.
In fact, many celebrities have publicly admitted that they’ve dealt with the wrath of bed bugs. Howard Stern even had trained bed bug dogs sniff his limo for the blood-sucking critters.
Yet still, our society often assumes that bed bugs only affect “dirty” of “unclean” residences. There’s a belief that if someone is dealing with bed bugs, they brought it upon themselves with poor hygiene or a messy home. This, as mentioned above, is untrue.
This stigma is why many people also report feelings of shame and embarrassment.
Tiffany from Ohio says it’s not just her that has to deal with this stigma, but also her kids.
“My kids can’t even have friends over. I can’t invite people in,” she says, adding, “my kids have had to hide their bite marks.”
For many Americans, getting routine sleep is tricky enough without bed bugs.
Add in the thought of your mattress being a home to dozens of blood sucking pests, and it’s not a surprise that many people deal with insomnia for extended periods of time after dealing with an infestation.
“I feel that these bed bugs are destroying my sanity. I can’t sleep, I can’t eat, I can’t concentrate at work,” says Megan from Pennsylvania. “My husband and I are constantly fighting. I just want my life back.”
Megan’s adult son is developmentally disabled and can’t drive, and she believes he picked up the bed bugs on a public bus. They’ve been dealing with the problem for six weeks.
An article published by the New York Times outlined just how isolating an experience of a bed bug infestation can be. Friends admitted to avoiding other friends for months because they were “afraid to catch cooties.” And, professionals lost clients because of an infestation at their office.
Unsurprisingly, studies have long suggested that isolation can be a primary instigator for anxiety and depression.
While Insomnia and PTSD may be more of the direct ways that bed bugs can impact mental health, missing out on social interactions due to bed bug stigma can haunt people even after the bed bugs are gone.
“I live in Texas 1,400 miles away from my family, and the only family I have here is my sister and her kids, and I can’t see them or go around them because I couldn’t live with myself knowing I gave it (bed bugs) to them, so I keep my distance,” says Amanda from Texas. “I’m so depressed, I lash out, my anxiety is at all time high. I just want our lives back.”
Amanda has a 2-year-old son that is having allergic reactions to the bites. They’ve been dealing with the problem for almost 8 weeks at the time of this publication.
Rose from Texas has been dealing with bed bugs for four years, even after moving and purchasing new furniture.
“Our daughters who are 5, 6, and7 would love to have sleep overs and we can’t even do that for them due to this problem,” she says.
The Financial Strain of Bed Bugs
Another indirect way that bed bugs can take their toll is stress on the wallet.
While many state bed bug laws require landlords to take action in eliminating bed bugs on their residents’ behalf, there are still plenty of cases in which at least some of the financial burden lies with the tenant. For low income residents, this can make tackling bed bugs a very difficult task.
If extermination costs make paying rent or buying groceries more difficult, stress can be high and household relationships can get tense.
“I am a single mom and one-income family,” says Donna from Florida. “I am so stressed out. I have cried and prayed, and I am doing what I can, but this is so challenging to say the least.”
Donna says her daughter can’t enjoy her summer, she’s embarrassed, stressed to the max, and paranoid when she sleeps.
The Fear of Reinfestation
After an infestation, many people continue to worry that the bed bugs will come back.
The truth is those worries aren’t ungrounded. And especially if they have self-treated and haven’t been able to afford a professional pest management professional.
They can read all the blogs and do everything people suggest such as wash everything on high heat, live as cautiously as possible, and clean up the clutter. But still, all it takes is one single female bed bug or egg to survive. If that happens, the infestation would likely be back at full force three months later.
This devastating cycle of reinfestation can take a toll. Many people report feeling like they can never “fully relax” in their homes, knowing that at any point they could begin to see the signs that the bugs were back.
Bed Bug Infestation Prevention is Possible
For any landlord concerned with their tenants’ quality of life, bed bug prevention is a must. And for pest management professionals, educating your multi-family property customers is not only important, but can help increase revenue with an add-on service like inexpensive remote insect monitoring.
We all know that we can’t 100% eradicate bed bugs for our customers or our tenants, because people travel, go to group gatherings, and get gifted used furniture. But what we can do, is identify the few bed bugs early on before it becomes an infestation.
And with the right systems in place, we can prevent our customers and tenants from having mental health issues due to a bed bug infestation.
Early Detection with Remote Pest Monitors for Bed Bugs, Cockroaches, and Other Insects
Pest Notify was created in order to combat bed bug infestations in multi-family housing. In fact, Founder and CEO Robert Edwards has been a property manager for more than 18 years. In a 3-year period, his company had to pay more than $100,000 for bed bug remediation among the properties they managed.
He was sick and tired of the reputational damage, cost, and civil liability. At the same time, he knew that doing manual inspections every month was intrusive to tenants and much too time consuming.
He knew there had to be a better way. And so he researched any solutions out there, and found that there really weren’t any options that were feasible for a property management company.
And so he created Pest Notify, an inexpensive remote pest monitoring insect trap without any sort of electronic component.
With Pest Notify, customers or residents simply text or email a photo of their traps to us. We analyze the photos, and only alert you when a pest is identified. They’re reminded weekly or monthly to submit their traps.
The best part? You’re likely already buying monitoring traps. And for just a few more cents per trap, you can increase customer service. Plus, if you’re a PMP, you can upsell your customers and generate more recurring revenue.
Signup for a free trial here.