Psychological recovery after an admission to intensive care

Posted by Rethink Health on June 9th, 2021

Feeling low or anxious is not uncommon following admission to an intensive care unit. This applies to both patients and their families. This brief blog aims to raise awareness of some of the difficulties patients and their families can encounter following an admission to intensive care. You may also be interested to read this article from the national press:

More than 170,000 patients are admitted to intensive care each year in the UK – and the number of admissions in 2020-21 is likely to be substantially higher. Intensive care units (ICUs) can be highly stressful places. Patients often experience pain, thirst, sleep deprivation, distressing hallucinations, delusions and disorientation, undergo multiple invasive medical procedures and experience side effects from potent drugs.

A state of short-term confusion called ‘delirium’ is thought to be common in intensive care patients, affecting about 40% of patients. Patients who develop delirium can sometimes experience frightening hallucinations. This means patients may see or hear things that they suspect are not really there. In these circumstances a person is not experiencing a mental illness; rather, they are likely experiencing the side-effects of necessary medication or aspects of their illness. Delirious patients can also sometimes appear depressed, lethargic or withdrawn – this can be easily confused with depression or low mood.

As a result of the stressors associated with an intensive care admission, about 40% of patients discharged from critical care experience problems with anxiety or depression and about 23% patients report post-traumatic stress. About 30% of family members can report similar difficulties. Many patients also experience changes to their thinking skills, such as memory, attention or the ability to find the right word.

For many patients, these common psychological responses improve independently in the 2-4 weeks following discharge from hospital. Spending time with family and friends, focusing on physical rehabilitation and obtaining accurate information about what happened during a hospital admission can all be really helpful in a patient’s recovery.

However, some people – through no fault of their own – continue to feel affected by these experiences for more than four weeks following discharge from hospital. They may find themselves preoccupied by distressing memories of their admission, having nightmares or feeling unusually low in mood, anxious or irritable. This can apply to both patients and their families.

In these circumstances, there are several options available. One option is to contact the intensive care unit. There may be an ‘intensive care follow up clinic’, where patients can go and meet with a doctor, physiotherapist and psychologist from the intensive care unit to discuss their concerns. Alternatively, patients can raise concerns with a GP. There is also a charity called ICU Steps that can be found online, which provides more information about the rehabilitation challenges of an ICU admission. Alternatively, you may wish to contact us at Rethink Health. We specialise in helping patients and their families manage the psychological impact of critical illness and physical injury.

For more information about Post ICU PTSD Treatment visit here:

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Rethink Health
Joined: May 17th, 2021
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