How does a person’s time in COVID ICU ward affect his/her mental health ? What can be done to help them?01 Jun, 2021 | 09:18
Being in an ICU can be extremely isolating and lonely and scary even in non COVID situations. In the COVID pandemic, no relative can visit the ICU, the staff, nurses and doctors are in PPE and you can’t see them or identify a familiar face and there may be a lot of suffering and even deaths in the ICU. All this makes it an extremely isolating experience.
The main thing which will help them is to stay connected with family and dear ones through frequent video calls or messages. Having something familiar can also be calming and a photo of a loved one, a religious symbol or a good luck charm or some music playing in the ICU can soothe.
Doctors and nurses need to provide information about procedures, what they are doing, and mention about any improvement that is happening or when the situation is stable.
When speaking to your loved one who is in the ICU or when messaging them, send messages of hope, record your voice with a soothing message or some chants or soothing music, jokes and humour which they can play for themselves or the staff can play for them. If there are grandchildren, let them give messages and cheer them up and provide hope. Make sure they have their glasses or hearing aid, or a pen and a writing pad.
Once they are discharged from ICU and come home, many may continue to have flashbacks of the time in the ICU and relive the trauma. They may get anxious or have nightmares and dreams. Some people may do the opposite and feel numb and not want to talk about it at all. Respect their individual wishes about this. If the anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares and sleep disturbances are too much- that is suggestive of PTSD. If anxiety is overwhelming, we might want to use some grounding techniques like encouraging some sensory stimulation using the five fingers method. In PTSD, people feel that they are in the traumatic situation again rather than realising that they are now out of danger. To make them get back to the present and for the brain to recognise that the threat is over and they are safe, these grounding techniques help;
- Name Five things that you can See at this time wherever you are
- Name Four things you can Hear at this time- the fan, kitchen noises, rain, dog barking, birds chirping are some examples
- Name Three things that you can Touch – touch different surfaces and describe the sensation
- Name Two things you can Smell
- Name One thing you can Taste
This will help in grounding, bringing the person back to the present and decrease overwhelming anxiety. If the problem is too much then, encourage them to seek mental health support.