High Prevalence of Depression Following ICU Stays

Man discharged from hospitalNew research suggests as much as a third of patients experience depression symptoms after leaving the intensive care unit (ICU) of a hospital. In some cases, the symptoms may continue more than a year later. The study, published in the journal Critical Care Medicine, also identifies a lack of effective post-ICU interventions for such psychiatric developments.

Survivors of health conditions requiring intensive care within a hospital face a number of continuing threats to their well-being after discharge from the unit. Relapse of the initial condition, sleep problems or disturbances, fatigue, and chronic pain are just a few of the physical symptoms that may persist. Mental health is also vulnerable to post-ICU complications. The new research may help to clarify the risks associated with developing depression.

Post-ICU Risk of Depression

Researchers used an investigative framework known as meta-analysis for this study. It involves performing a new statistical analysis on a collection of data taken from existing studies of the topic. They identified 42 unique studies that met the required criteria. The selected research included a total of 4,113 patients.

Results showed significant depression symptoms were observable in about one third of the patients at follow-up times of two to three months, six months, and 12-14 months after leaving the ICU. These numbers are three to four times those seen in the general population. Patients found to be at highest risk were those who had a mental health condition before or during their ICU visits.

Complications of Depression During Recovery

The development of depression can be a serious threat to postoperative patients. In a recent article published in the journal BMC Surgery, the authors review situations in which depression may impair recovery. Suppression of the immune system is a symptom of depression that can lead to postoperative infections, cancer relapse, and other problems. Cognitive impairment, pain, and postoperative delirium are also associated with depression following surgery.

Patients leaving intensive care are at a high risk of developing long-term depression. Given that the condition is associated with serious complications in the recovery process, researchers say it is critical that effective interventions are developed and implemented to minimize the potential for prolonged suffering.


  1. Choi, J., Hoffman, L. A., Schulz, R., Tate, J. A., Donahoe, M. P., Ren, D., … & Sherwood, P. R. (2014). Self-reported physical symptoms in intensive care unit (ICU) survivors: pilot exploration over four months post-ICU discharge. Journal of Pain and Symptom Management, 47(2), 257-270. Retrieved from http://www.jpsmjournal.com/article/S0885-3924(13)00308-4/abstract
  2. Ghoneim, M. M., & O’Hara, M. W. (2016). Depression and postoperative complications: an overview. BMC Surgery, 16(1), 1. Retrieved from https://bmcsurg.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12893-016-0120-y
  3. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2016, August 15). Study finds one in three former ICU patients shows symptoms of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/08/160815111427.htm
  4. Rabiee, A., Nikayin, S., Hashem, M. D., Huang, M., Dinglas, V. D., Bienvenu, O. J., … & Needham, D. M. (2016). Depressive symptoms after critical illness: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Critical Care Medicine, 44(9), 1744-1753. Retrieved from http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/27153046

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  • steven


    August 29th, 2016 at 10:30 AM

    Wouldn’t depression in many ways hold you back from healing as completely and maybe even as quickly as you could?

  • Brenda


    August 29th, 2016 at 3:10 PM

    My husband had heart surgery last year and was in the hospital for two weeks after, and then had so much down time afterwards that there are times when I still feel like emotionally he is not the same.
    I have wondered if he could be depressed but if I have brought it up with him or the doctors they are all so dismissive, like this is not what we even need to be talking about.

    But it worries me because I swear he is a different person now than he was before the surgery.

  • Joely


    August 30th, 2016 at 11:23 AM

    Do you think that part of it is a fear of what they could have missed out on while ill and in the hospital?

  • carroll


    August 30th, 2016 at 2:25 PM

    You know that there are some families for whom a long term hospital stay or any medical crisis would mean financial ruin for them. I suppose that there are many people who are depressed after ICU stays who are facing just that sort of crisis.

  • Rudy


    August 31st, 2016 at 2:27 PM

    The time can seem like such a blur and you begin to wonder just how much you have missed out on.

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