Breaking it Down: Post Intensive Care Syndrome and Recovery - Emotions

Sep 7, 2018 | Annie Johnson | @andreab | Comments (1)



The emotional aftermath of critical illness/injury is something that often catches people by surprise but can have a significant impact on daily life. People who have been critically ill/injured often describe difficulty with anxiety, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as nightmares, flashbacks, and insomnia.

The emotional disruption seen with PICS is complex and may stem from various causes. A history of anxiety and depression before critical illness/injury may be acutley exacerbated. Prior life trauma may place people more at risk for post-ICU PTSD symptoms. And the reality of how critical illness/injury has changed ones life - fatigue, pain, altered work/school performance, etc. - can catch people off guard, starting a cycle of anger, anxiety, and depression.

I am a year out…I cry at the drop of a hat. I went back to work full time only to find I cannot physically do the work due to the pain.

- ICU Survivor via Mayo Clinic Connect

It may not be possible to fully avoid the negative emotional effects of critical illness, but there are steps that one can take to lessen the impact. Below are some helpful tips to guide you:

  • You are not alone. Many people who have been critically ill/injured experience new emotional disruptions.
  • Anxiety, depression, and even PTSD symptoms following critical illness/injury are a part of PICS. Not everyone will experience these difficulties, but simply knowing that this may develop can be tremendously helpful. This knowledge helps one self monitor for worrisome signs as well be reassured that troubling symptoms may not necessarily indicate that something new is wrong.
  • Talk to your healthcare provider about any new emotional symptoms. Bring along this information to share and make sure to discuss your history of critical illness/injury.
  • Connect with a mental health practitioner. This may be referral based from your primary provider or a self referral. Finding someone with knowledge of PICS may be difficult, but again share this information at your visit.
  • Connect with others who have experienced critical illness/injury. The power of connection to others who have similar experiences cannot be underestimated.


There is an expanding global network of Peer Support groups sponsored by the Society of Critical Care Medicine. A list of the current groups can be found by following this link: Peer Support Group Directory

The internet and social media can also be a powerful resource for connecting with others. Two sites that offer online support can be found here:


Come back next month when we discuss Post Intensive Care Syndrome and the effect on the family.

In the meantime, join our conversation online. Have you or a loved one experienced critical illness/injury? You're not alone. Share your story and connect with others who have been on the same journey:

Post-Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) - Let's Talk

Interested in more newsfeed posts like this? Go to the Post Intensive Care Syndrome (PICS) blog.

I am looking forward to your next article on the effect on families. I have sent the current article to our Patient Liaison Officer at our local hospital as it was never mentioned to us and as you suggest has caught us by surprise. My husband was intially discharged on 30.11.2018 but still has some unexpected reactions.

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