COVID-19 hospitalization can leave psychological impacts on patients, psychologist says

·2 min read
Christel Shropshall speaks with CBC News from a hospital bed, where she is recovering from COVID-19. (Google Meet - image credit)
Christel Shropshall speaks with CBC News from a hospital bed, where she is recovering from COVID-19. (Google Meet - image credit)

An Alberta woman says she will be reaching out for mental health support as she deals with trauma after being admitted to ICU with COVID-19.

The long-term physical impacts of COVID-19 have been well-documented, but psychologists say patients should also be aware of the psychological and mental health impacts.

Christel Shropshall, who lives near Sundre, Alta., is not vaccinated and started feeling symptoms on Sept. 11. She tested positive for COVID-19 and was quickly admitted to hospital.

"That was the darkest time of my life. I actually thought I was going to die. I couldn't breathe. I was suffocating," she told CBC News from a hospital bed.

As her condition worsened, Shropshall was placed in a medically induced coma.

"I just remember sending a text to my husband just saying 'I love you and I'll see you on the other side,'" she said.

Christel Shropshall
Christel Shropshall

The sights and sounds right before she went into the coma still haunt her.

"All the alarms were going off. My oxygen was off. My heart rate was going down," Shropshall said.

About a month later, Shropshall is out of the coma and out of ICU, but the 38-year-old said the sound of hospital alarms can be triggering.

"It just reminds me of not being able to breathe and that I'm in trouble, that I'm not safe anymore," she said.

"It's going to take a lot more healing for my body spiritually and mentally than physically to be honest."

Janine Groeneveld, a registered psychologist and trauma therapist, has worked with a few people with similar experiences as Shropshall.

"It just reminds me of not being able to breathe." - Christel Shropshall

Patients are often dealing with the physical effects of being hospitalized with COVID-19 along with added stimuli, like sounds, in hospitals, she explained.

"You're adding in all that extraneous stimuli on top of an already perceived threat of death, and we're kind of creating a perfect storm for post-traumatic stress symptoms afterward," Groeneveld said.

The long-term effects can include hyper-arousal, hyper-vigilance and marked changes of perception of self in the world, which, Groeneveld said, can include a perception of lack of safety in the world.

It's important for people in similar situations to connect with mental health supports, she said.

Shropshall is planning to do that to help with coping techniques.

"I do my breathing technique and just remind myself, 'No, you beat it,'" she said.

As for her physical rehabilitation, she is re-learning how to walk and how to hold a fork and cup.

It is not clear when she will be discharged from hospital but it is something Shropshall is looking forward to.

"I just need to be home with my family now. I think that's where the most healing is going to take place now," she said.

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