Your emotional wellbeing after being in intensive care

After your stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) at either Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site) it may take up to 18 months for you to fully recover.

Being weak and having to put a lot of effort into doing simple things, such as getting dressed and moving about, can make you feel low for a while. You can also feel like you’ve lost your independence if you need a lot of help from other people at this early stage.

Your mood may change often and you may:

  • feel upset and tearful
  • always feel tired or unable to sleep properly
  • not care what you look like
  • be quick-tempered and snappy
  • feel guilty for causing so much trouble and worry
  • forget things
  • not feel hungry
  • not understand what has happened to you and how ill you have been
  • feel scared that you almost died, and
  • worry about getting ill again and how long it’s taking to recover.

Your family and friends will be pleased to have you home, but they may not understand your feelings or why you are acting differently. Talk to them about how you feel.

Your GP may also be able to offer you treatment or counselling to help you through this difficult time. As you get better and start doing more, you will face new challenges. They can make you feel scared – try to keep calm and take slow, deep breaths.

Understanding what happened to you

People feel differently about their time in intensive care and the strong medications and treatments you received will have affected your body and mind.

For some the experience is no more worrying than any other stay in hospital. Some have no clear memory of it while others may have felt slightly aware but didn’t know where they were or what was happening. For others, it was very traumatic and it may take time for them to come to terms with it afterwards.

After being critically ill it is not unusual to:

  • have intense, vivid dreams or nightmares that feel very real
  • experience disturbing, sudden and vivid memories of past events (flashbacks)
  • experience hallucinations by seeing things that aren’t there
  • feel much more worried, nervous or anxious about things than usual
  • feel tearful or depressed, or have deep feelings of hopelessness
  • not enjoy the things that you usually do or lack energy or interest in life.

It’s common for patients in an ICU to have hallucinations. You may have had dreams or feelings of being tortured, trapped in bed or felt as if you were being held captive. This was probably caused by having drip lines and catheters inserted into your body to help support your body’s normal functions and monitor your condition. The fear this causes can remain for weeks after you have been transferred to a general ward or returned home.

You may also have felt some paranoia as you tried to make sense of things when you were confused. This too normally passes with time.

If going back to hospital for a follow-up appointment frightens you, take along someone you trust to reassure you.

In a few cases, patients and family members can have extreme symptoms of stress after their treatment in the ICU. This is known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), however it is rare. Most people who suffer from PTSD find that talking to a professional counsellor about their stay in hospital helps. You can ask your GP to refer you for counselling.

Moving forward

After leaving hospital you may have questions about your stay in the ICU.

You won’t remember everything that happened to you in the ICU. Writing down what you can remember may help you to collect together your memories. It may help to ask your family and friends what they remember about it.

If your relatives or visitors kept a diary while you were in the ICU, reading it can help you understand what happened. It may take a while before you feel ready to read it, and it can be very emotional, but it may help you understand what happened.

If it helps, take the time to understand the medical side of what happened to you.

Return to information about your ICU patient journey

Button reads ICU patient journey

Contact our ICUs

Contact the ICU at Fiona Stanley Hospital or Rockingham General Hospital (external site).