Background: Psychiatric Intensive Care Units (PICU) have been part of most inpatient psychiatric services for some time, although information about their functioning and outcome has not previously been collated.
Aim: To conduct a systematic literature review to assess the current state of knowledge about such services.
Method: A search of electronic databases was undertaken, followed by obtaining additional references from items obtained.
Results: Over 50 papers in English containing some empirical data were identified. Most studies were retrospective. Typical PICU patients are male, younger, single, unemployed, suffering from schizophrenia or mania, from a Black Caribbean or African background, legally detained, with a forensic history. The most common reason for admission is for aggression management, and most patients stay a week or less. Evidence of the efficacy of PICU care is very poor.
Conclusions: Most research so far has been small scale, and more substantial work using better methodologies is clearly required.