Researchers from Johns Hopkins discovered that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is equally as or more common in ICU patients as it is in soldiers. The study was performed on patients with acute lung illness who were hooked up to ventilators in a number of ICUs around Baltimore. The researchers visited them during their hospitalization and then visited the survivors at home soon after they were discharged and again two years later. More than 65% of the patients who showed PTSD symptoms right after their ICU stay still had the symptoms two years later. This proved that the symptoms were going away but very slowly and not in all the patients.
What makes this PTSD different from the PTSD common in soldiers is that sometimes the ICU patients may experience trauma in their delusions and hallucinations. This trauma which is very real to the patients, never actually occurred so no one else can undersand the patient's experience. This may be caused by the condition of the patient and the sedatives and narcotics they are given in the hospital. They are likely to have recurring flashbacks of events that never actually occurred for years following their hospitalization.
A new approach is being looked at for caring for patients who are treated in the ICU. One approach that I find very unique is ICU diaries. These journals are put together by the patients' families and nurses that show what happens with the patient day to day. Later the patient is given this diary to have a way of supporting memories that actually happened and not any of the realistic delusions.
I think it's surprising that until now psychological rehab has not been implemented. No matter what serious condition a person may suffer from, going through it, nearly dying and spending a while hooked up to a ventilator in an ICU is due to cause stress that will linger longer than any physical symptoms. This research should not be treated lightly or dismissed. Taking care of the patients' mental issues is as important as healing their bodies.