Regardless of mental health history, pre-existing medical conditions, and severity of illness, those hospitalized for COVID-19 had higher levels of PTSD, anxiety, and loneliness compared to those hospitalized for non-COVID-related illnesses at the time of discharge, a recent report released by University of Michigan researchers concluded.
The study was conducted in the spring of 2020 and surveyed 178 patients after their hospitalization. Sixty-four percent of the participants had tested positive for COVID-19. Researchers screened the patients with memory, anxiety, PTSD and loneliness tests.
Lead author Joanna Spencer-Segal, an assistant professor of internal medicine and research assistant professor at the Michigan Neuroscience Institute, said her experiences in the post-COVID-19 clinic helped her design some of the questions addressed in the study. used. One of the participants with COVID-19 had acute respiratory distress, according to Spencer-Segal, and she recalled talking to him about his family.
“I remember asking about his kid and he showed me some pictures,” Spencer-Segal said. “I have assessed the situation. I said, ‘I think it’s going to be okay. We’ll help you through this, and you’ll go home to your child.’ And he just relaxed. And he did. He walked out of the hospital a few days later.”
Some of the research statements presented to the participants by the research team included, “I was afraid I wouldn’t see my friends and family again” and “I was afraid of dying alone.”
Jakob McSparron, an associate professor of medicine in the Department of Pulmonary and Critical Care, told The Michigan Daily that he was not surprised by the results of the study. Even before the pandemic, McSparron explained that many people without a pre-existing condition had depression, anxiety, and PTSD symptoms. McSparron said he believes the absence of families during quarantine only exacerbated the effect on patients.
“Our visiting policy is still not what it used to be,” McSparron said. “We know that having family in intensive care helps patients and relatives and can reduce some of these long-term consequences. The challenges of the pandemic – specifically related to patient isolation – have exacerbated these problems that were already there for hospitalized patients.”
LSA junior America Mendoza said she understands why family support is important.
“Going in as a sick person and knowing your family probably won’t be there and knowing a lot about your care is very isolating,” Mendoza said. “And the sense of isolation can certainly worsen mental health in general.”
McSparron said hospitals and nurses are doing what they can to provide mental health and social support given the circumstances.
“All the nurses, technicians and doctors at the bedside try to be supportive, and we have social workers in the different departments, but they can’t be at the bedside all the time,” McSparron said. “They are not the same as people who know the patient. So we have people involved in their care and hopefully able to help, but we don’t have the same level of social support to really help that person integrate into some of their usual aspects of life.”
Robert Hyzy, medical director of the Division of Critical Care Medicine, highlighted the importance of nurses and social workers and the potential impact the pandemic could have on both their own mental health and that of their patients.
“This pandemic has taken a significant toll on (nurses and social workers),” Hyzy said. “This matter of being essentially surrogate relatives. Their job is hard enough to begin with to care for critically ill patients. To try to fill that gap in some way isn’t really in their job description. It’s very difficult for them.”
Hyzy said family visits will improve the recovery and well-being of patients in the hospital. As the pandemic has progressed, the hospital has been able to relax some visitation restrictions, allowing some family members to visit patients. Hyzy said these measures could improve mental health outcomes for COVID-19 patients.
“One of the worst aspects of the pandemic that is bad in so many ways has been the lack of the ability to let families visit the loved ones at the bedside,” Hyzy said. “Not only is that a tragic, terrible thing, but it’s clear that the problems of loneliness and so forth that arise are also associated with brain dysfunction, which itself has long-term cognitive consequences.”
dr. Hyzy said he is committed to encouraging family visits and supporting hospitalized patients.
“I’m trying to knock down walls to get a Family Center for my ICU because so many families spend the night bedside in a Lazy Boy in the room,” Hyzy said. “It’s ridiculous. But when you’re in the middle of a pandemic, all bets are off.”
In the event that hospitals have to reintroduce restricted visitation policies and quarantine due to the increasing number of COVID-19 cases, Hyzy said he has no choice but to accept it as what’s best for public health.
“I’m not saying we don’t need these rules,” Hyzy said. “We need them. This is infection control. This is public health. These are important rules, but the collateral damage is alarming and worrying. In low-protection infectious diseases, other PPE and vaccinations, public health should trump these other things. It doesn’t mean that I’m happy with it, but I accept it.”