Short-term psychological impact on family members of intensive care unit patients

J Psychosom Res. 2006 Nov;61(5):719-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2006.05.013.


Objective: This study aimed to evaluate the short-term psychological impact on family members of intensive care unit (ICU) patients during their stay in the unit.

Methods: Thirty-two first-degree relatives of patients treated in the ICU of two general hospitals were investigated for symptoms of early posttraumatic stress reaction, anxiety, and depression. Patients' and relatives' sociodemographic data and information pertaining to the patients' ICU treatment were collected. Family members were assessed at intake and before discharge through the Center for Epidemiological Studies Depression Scale, the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and the Impact of Event Scale.

Results: High rates of anxiety, depressive (97%), and posttraumatic stress (81%) symptoms were recorded at the initial assessment. Although symptoms remitted significantly, 87% and 59% of the sample fulfilled the criteria for a depressive and posttraumatic stress reaction, respectively, at the second assessment. Women exhibited higher levels of distress and more persisting symptoms than men did. Trait anxiety was the most significant predictor (P<.001) of the severity of depressive symptoms and the single predictor of the development of posttraumatic stress reaction (P<.000); also, state anxiety was a predictor of the development of posttraumatic stress symptoms, especially of the female gender.

Conclusions: Family members of ICU patients exhibit high levels of distress that persist throughout their relatives' hospitalization. Women and individuals with high trait anxiety are at increased risk for developing such reactions. Severe early anxiety responses predicted the development of posttraumatic stress symptoms. Early case identification and intervention may prevent the full development of posttraumatic stress disorder.

MeSH terms

  • Adjustment Disorders / diagnosis
  • Adjustment Disorders / psychology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anxiety Disorders / diagnosis
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology
  • Craniocerebral Trauma / psychology
  • Critical Care / psychology*
  • Family / psychology*
  • Female
  • Hospitals, General
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Personality Inventory
  • Postoperative Complications / psychology
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / diagnosis*
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology
  • Wounds and Injuries / psychology