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Social support improves mental health after a traumatic health care intervention

Support from hospital staff and family is an important factor in preventing post-traumatic stress disorder after a major intensive-care intervention.

A study published today in the open access journal Critical Care reveals that patients who were successfully treated for severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) are less likely to report symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) if they feel that they were supported during and after the intervention in the Intensive Care Unit.

Maria Deja and colleagues from the Charité Hospital in Berlin, Germany, studied 65 survivors of ARDS on average 4.7 years after the patients had been discharged from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in their hospital. PTSD, health- related quality of life, symptoms of psychopathology and perception of social support were assessed in these people using standard questionnaires. The authors compared the questionnaire scores of ARDS survivors with the scores of healthy individuals who hadn’t suffered from ARDS.

Deja et al.’s results show that ARDS survivors’ health-related quality of life was significantly reduced. Eighteen ARDS survivors were identified as being at increased risk for PTSD, and this was not related to the severity or to the cause of their ARDS. But these people did report having experienced more anxiety while at the ICU, and also showed a tendency to remember experiences of pain more often than ARDS survivors who were not at risk of PTSD. In addition, psychological problems were significantly more intense in ARDS survivors who were at risk of PTSD. These patients showed a reduced mental dimension of quality of life compared to ARDS survivors who were not at risk of PTSD and compared to healthy individuals. For survivors who were at risk of PTSD, the perception of the support they had received was significantly lower than that of the other group of ARDS survivors. Overall, better-perceived social support was associated with a reduction in PTSD symptoms.

The authors also find that ARDS survivors who were at risk of PSTD were more likely to claim benefits or be unable to work.

Deja et al. conclude: “The main result of our study was that social support and its probable mental health benefits may favourably affect the long-term outcome, including the employment status, of ICU patients who recover from ARDS.”

Juliette Savin | alfa
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