HealthDay News — Many caregivers of critically ill patients receiving mechanical ventilation in an intensive care unit (ICU) report high levels of depressive symptoms, according to a study published in the May 12 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

For the study, Jill I. Cameron, PhD, from the University of Toronto, and colleagues enrolled 280 caregivers of patients who had received 7 days or more of mechanical ventilation in an ICU. Information was collected on caregiver and patient characteristics using hospital data and self-administered questionnaires. Assessments were conducted at 7 days and 3, 6, and 12 months after ICU discharge.

The researchers found that 70% of caregivers were women and 61% were caring for a spouse. Many caregivers reported high levels of depressive symptoms (67% initially and 43% at 1 year). In 84% of caregivers, depressive symptoms decreased at least partially with time, while in 16% they did not. Among caregivers, younger age, greater effect of patient care on other activities, less social support, less sense of control over life, and less personal growth were significantly associated with worse mental health outcomes. Over time, no patient variables were consistently associated with caregiver outcomes.

“Most caregivers of critically ill patients reported high levels of depressive symptoms, which commonly persisted up to one year and did not decrease in some caregivers,” the authors write.

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