The Intensive Care Unit Experience: Psychological Impact on Family Members of Patients With and Without Traumatic Brain Injury

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Purpose/Objective: The intensive care unit (ICU) has been identified as a possible contributor to emotional distress. This study seeks to identify whether families of traumatic brain injury (TBI) patients in the ICU experience psychological differences as compared with non-TBI patients’ family members. Method: Eighty-two family members in a trauma/critical care ICU were assessed at baseline and again at 3 months. The Patient Health Questionnaire 8-Item measured depression, the Primary Care PTSD Screen measured symptoms of posttraumatic stress (PTS). Results: Forty of these individuals were the family members of ICU patients who had sustained a TBI; 42 of the individuals were the family members of non-TBI patients in the ICU. At baseline, 39% (33% non-TBI, 45% TBI, p = .28) of the total sample screened positive for depressive symptoms and 24.3% (26% non-TBI, 23% TBI, p = .69) screened positive for PTS symptoms. However, differences emerged between the groups at 3 months, with family members in the non-TBI group showing a significant decrease in both baseline depression and PTS symptoms. Conclusions/Implications: This study, to our knowledge, is the first of its kind to examine psychological differences in the ICU in those whose family members either have or do not have a TBI. Results suggest the TBI group endorsed more symptoms of depression and PTS symptoms at 3 months. Although it is unclear whether symptoms were directly related to the ICU experience or the injury itself, future research should explore the possible additive effect of postintensive care syndrome–family symptoms.

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