Symptoms of anxiety and depression in family members of intensive care unit patients: ethical hypothesis regarding decision-making capacity

Crit Care Med. 2001 Oct;29(10):1893-7. doi: 10.1097/00003246-200110000-00007.


Objective: Anxiety and depression may have a major impact on a person's ability to make decisions. Characterization of symptoms that reflect anxiety and depression in family members visiting intensive care patients should be of major relevance to the ethics of involving family members in decision-making, particularly about end-of-life issues.

Design: Prospective multicenter study.

Setting: Forty-three French intensive care units (37 adult and six pediatric); each unit included 15 patients admitted for longer than 2 days.

Patients: Six hundred thirty-seven patients and 920 family members.

Interventions: Intensive care unit characteristics and data on the patient and family members were collected. Family members completed the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale to allow evaluation of the prevalence and potential factors associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Measurements and main results: Of 920 Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale questionnaires that were completed by family members, all items were completed in 836 questionnaires, which formed the basis for this study. The prevalence of symptoms of anxiety and depression in family members was 69.1% and 35.4%, respectively. Symptoms of anxiety or depression were present in 72.7% of family members and 84% of spouses. Factors associated with symptoms of anxiety in a multivariate model included patient-related factors (absence of chronic disease), family-related factors (spouse, female gender, desire for professional psychological help, help being received by general practitioner), and caregiver-related factors (absence of regular physician and nurse meetings, absence of a room used only for meetings with family members). The multivariate model also identified three groups of factors associated with symptoms of depression: patient-related (age), family-related (spouse, female gender, not of French descent), and caregiver-related (no waiting room, perceived contradictions in the information provided by caregivers).

Conclusions: More than two-thirds of family members visiting patients in the intensive care unit suffer from symptoms of anxiety or depression. Involvement of anxious or depressed family members in end-of-life decisions should be carefully discussed.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Critical Illness / therapy*
  • Decision Making*
  • Depressive Disorder / epidemiology*
  • Depressive Disorder / etiology
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Euthanasia, Passive
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • France / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units*
  • Life Support Care / statistics & numerical data
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Statistics, Nonparametric
  • Surveys and Questionnaires