Survival after severe illness spektrum der wissenschaft

Moving on after a serious illness

Trauma : "All severe illnesses can lead to PTSD"

Fear of death, helplessness, being alone in an intensive care unit: a life-threatening illness also puts a strain on the psyche. How to find your way back to life afterwards? Psychologist Jenny Rosendahl works on therapy.

– Palliative care: How do we want to die?
– Trauma: Living on after a serious illness
– Perceived risks: The fear for loved ones
– Last resort: How to care for a dying person?
– Grief: Died without saying goodbye

How long after the specific event does PTSD usually occur?

Some of the patients already show symptoms in the hospital. With the return home to the familiar, safe environment, these often subside. For some, however, their onset is delayed. Everything was still okay in the hospital. Then, when they are back home, physical recovery may not progress as quickly and the memories come back, it gets worse. A third group, fortunately very few patients, are constantly very severely psychologically stressed.

“Often the environment reacts with little understanding, according to the motto: You have survived it, why are you still not better??”

Which of these then count as part of the third to fifth that you mentioned earlier?

All those I have just listed. But usually patients are not interviewed or examined until a certain period of time has passed, typically after six months. This means that those who have already recovered do not appear in some studies.

How much time should one give oneself? Is there a “typical” recovery period after serious illness??

No. The reactions and courses of events can be as individually different as people are. It is also important to distinguish between psychological symptomatology and physical regeneration – these are two different things, although they often go together. Regarding Covid-19 in particular, according to case reports, there seems to be a kind of post-Covid syndrome that has physical and psychological components. It can even occur in patients who were not so seriously ill. But especially among those who had to receive intensive care, a significant proportion still struggle with psychological symptoms afterwards. How long it takes to recover from this has not been studied much. It certainly depends on the conditions, such as age and previous illnesses.

How do you find your way back to life after such a stressful experience?? That is a great challenge. Can last a very long time. First of all, the symptomatology must be recognized in the first place. Those around you often react with little understanding, along the lines of: “You've survived it, why aren't you better yet?? Things must start to look up.” Many do not understand that apart from the physical stress, there can also be a psychological stress, such as sleep disturbances, exhaustion or difficulty concentrating. It is always a signal that something is wrong. This should be clarified.


The family doctor is certainly a good contact, he should know about it. The fact that illnesses and medical treatments can cause trauma is now better known among doctors and therapists. Unfortunately, mental illness is still associated with stigma in many sectors of society. By the way: PTSD is a common trauma consequence, but there are also others, for example depression or anxiety disorders.

It is normal to a certain extent that life-threatening experiences put a strain on the psyche. When do you need help?

The fact that one is afraid immediately afterwards or questions certain things is part of the normal processing procedure. However, if there is a significant level of suffering that lasts for a long time and affects the way people lead their lives, this is no longer normal.

What means longer time?

According to the diagnostic criteria: if the symptoms last longer than one month.

What should you do then?

In any case seek therapeutic help. Traditional psychotherapy can be provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis. There are also special trauma therapies. We ourselves are working on an online writing therapy. This was originally designed for sepsis survivors, but we want to apply it to covid 19 patients.

How does the?

The patient is supposed to write about the traumatic contents and thereby process them. A psychotherapist reads this. Gives feedback to the patient. The advantage: The method is barrier-free, time and place-independently. If you are physically limited, have small children or live in the countryside, you may not have the opportunity to see a psychotherapist or trauma therapist on a regular basis. The people who have participated in such writing therapies within the framework of our research projects so far – for example sepsis patients, victims of violence or traumatized refugees – have experienced the method as very helpful.


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