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Signs of PTSD among families with loved ones hospitalized by COVID, study reveals

May 2, 2022, 7:02 AM
Harborview Medical Center on March 09, 2022 in Seattle, Washington (Getty Images)...
Harborview Medical Center on March 09, 2022 in Seattle, Washington (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A new study reveals COVID may have a more lasting impact on your mental health than you thought, even if you never caught it, but had a relative who did.

Tina Mankowski understands.

It was two years ago, this month [May], that her mother died from COVID.

“She was in the hospital because she broke her toe,” Mankowski says.

“She went to the hospital. They put her in a boot, and since she’s 91 years old, they couldn’t send her home to independent living. She was just going to go to a nursing facility for a couple of weeks to get her back on her feet again.”

But somewhere between the hospital and the nursing facility, Mankowski’s mother contracted COVID.

Little was known about the virus at that time.

“It was frightening on so many different levels. Not only in hospitals (it was) frightening in grocery stores, it was frightening in schools. There were just so many unknowns.”

And it was especially scary to family members of those hospitalized with COVID.

A recent study found that 64 percent of people surveyed – who had loved ones in the ICU with COVID- showed symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress.

Mankowski participated in that survey and agrees with researchers who concluded the inability to visit loved ones contributed to the stress.

At the nursing facility, Mankowski says, “We couldn’t see her. They’d wheel her downstairs and we could see her through a plate glass window and get on a cell phone call with her, which she kept hanging up on us because she’s never used a cell phone,” Mankowski said, chuckling a little at the memory, “But, you know, that was it. We really didn’t get a chance to see her.”

Dr. Kira Mauseth is a Clinical Psychologist who co-leads the behavioral health strike team for the Washington State Department of Health.

“There’s a relationship between extreme helplessness and the development of traumatic stress types of symptoms,” Mauseth says.

Both Dr. Mauseth and Mankowski say they understand, that with no COVID vaccine available yet and minimal research done at the time, doctors at first recommended protocols like isolation.

But Mankowski says, “It still kind of almost doesn’t feel real when you think about it. I never really got to say goodbye to my mom. It’s just kind of a really weird unreal feeling.”

“Everybody has lost something in the last two years,” Mauseth says, but adds taking steps to acknowledge that loss helps.

“Working through that, acknowledging it, having rituals or ceremonies or just basic sort of processing of what’s happened is going to be a really essential piece of our collective recovery.”

She says she realizes that emotions – from fear to sadness and anger – may be a part of this.

And, she says, don’t get stuck in the “what-ifs.”

“The “if thens” really keep people stuck from being able to move forward, but it JUST DID.”

That’s a tough one for Mankowski who was not with her elderly mother as she passed.

“That’s the one thing that I’ll never know: if my mom thought we abandoned her or if she understood what was going on in the world, and that things were happening this way for a reason. We were trying to protect people.”

Mauseth says, honoring the losses, acknowledging the emotions, and letting go of the what-ifs: “That’s going to help us move through, right? We don’t move on from loss, we move through it and we continue to move forward. And that’s what healing is all about.”

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Signs of PTSD among families with loved ones hospitalized by COVID, study reveals