Healthcare News & Insights

Study: ICU patients suffer with depression

One-third of patients admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) develop depression that causes physical symptoms rather than the typical psychological signs, a new study finds. 

178436416Unfortunately, the condition often goes unnoticed, despite physical symptoms of depression, and the patient doesn’t receive treatment for it.

The study, conducted by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, in Nashville, TN, and published in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine, followed 821 patients, who were admitted to the medical or surgical ICU with sepsis or respiratory failure.

Survivors were assessed after three months and 12 months with measures of depression (Beck Depression Inventory II), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Checklist — Event Specific Version), and functional disability (activities of daily living scales, Pfeffer Functional Activities Questionnaire, and Katz Activities of Daily Living Scale).

Study findings

Here’s what the study found:

  • After three months, 149 (37%) of 406 patients were suffering from depression and two-thirds of them were displaying physical symptoms, such as changes in appetite, weakness and fatigue. It even got so bad that performing daily tasks, such as taking care of themselves, was difficult.
  • After 12 months 116 (33%) of 347 patients were still displaying mild symptoms of depression
  • Depressive symptoms were common even among individuals without a history of depression  (76  out of 255 patients at the three-month mark and 62 out of 217 individuals at 12 months)
  • Only 7% of patients (27 of 415 at three months, and 24 of 361 at 12 months) had symptoms consistent with post-traumatic distress disorder, and
  • Mental health and functional difficulties were prevalent in patients of all ages.

“It’s a significant public health issue. We need to pay more attention to preventing and treating the physical rather than psychological symptoms of depression in ICU survivors,” James Jackson, study leader, and a psychologist and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told

“The physical symptoms of depression are often resistant to standard treatment with antidepressant drugs, and we need to determine how best to enhance recovery with a new focus on physical and occupational rehabilitation.”

Undiagnosed issue

While the study revealed that ICU patients are three times more likely to suffer from depression than the general public, the mental health issues go mostly undiagnosed.

“Substantial time and energy has been invested in addressing PTSD in survivors of critical illness, but our findings suggest that it is less pervasive than depression,” Jackson said. “Patients of all ages are at risk of developing post-ICU mental health and functional disabilities, and more needs to be done to ensure that these impairments don’t become permanent.”

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