Treatment of depression with methylphenidate in patients difficult to wean from mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit

J Clin Psychiatry. 2000 Oct;61(10):750-5. doi: 10.4088/jcp.v61n1007.


Background: Mechanical ventilation is often required to support patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) with life-threatening cardiovascular, respiratory, or neuromuscular disorders. Occasionally, difficulties related to weaning patients from this support occur owing to depression. The traditional and newer-generation antidepressant drugs have a relatively long latency of response that interferes with rehabilitation attempts in the ICU. Psychostimulants such as methylphenidate show a rapid onset of antidepressant activity and a benign side effect profile.

Method: As consulting psychiatrists in the consultation-liaison service of a university hospital, we treated 7 patients with complex ICU courses presenting prolonged mechanical ventilation and psychomotor retardation associated with markedly depressed mood (DSM-IV criteria) by giving them methylphenidate. Methylphenidate was started on the first day at a dose of 2.5 mg p.o. in the morning and was increased by 2.5 mg each day with twice-a-day dosing in the morning and at noon until the patient responded or showed side effects. A maximum dose of 15 mg/day was not exceeded. Outcome evaluation was performed using the Clinical Global Impressions scale.

Results: Five (71 %) of 7 patients showed marked or moderate improvement in mood and activity within 3 to 4 days, and discontinuation of ventilator support was achieved within 8 to 14 days. Side effects with these 5 patients were not encountered. Of the remaining 2 patients (29%), 1 developed psychomotor agitation and anxiety within 4 days. Another patient showed only minimal improvement with regard to activity.

Conclusion: Methylphenidate might be a rapidly effective and safe treatment for depression in difficult-to-wean patients hospitalized for life-threatening medical illness in the ICU. Implications for future research for this population of patients warrant formal randomized, prospective, clinical case-control evaluation.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Central Nervous System Stimulants / therapeutic use*
  • Depressive Disorder / diagnosis
  • Depressive Disorder / drug therapy*
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / therapeutic use*
  • Middle Aged
  • Psychiatric Status Rating Scales / statistics & numerical data
  • Respiratory Insufficiency / therapy
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Ventilator Weaning / adverse effects
  • Ventilator Weaning / methods*
  • Ventilators, Mechanical / adverse effects*


  • Central Nervous System Stimulants
  • Methylphenidate