Many individuals experience depression after surgery. This Mental Health Awareness Month, we’ll discuss why this sometimes occurs and how it can be avoided.
Many people feel anxiety as they approach their surgical date. The reasons for this are many: You might be worried about the surgery itself, the pain you’ll feel after recovery, how your family will be able to handle everything while you are recuperating, any new medications that you’ll have to take, and so on. Working on relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation can help you overcome the completely normal anxiety that often accompanies having a procedure done.
What you might not be expecting, however, is depression. Some people have depression after surgery, and in addition to the symptoms of the depression itself, you might also be surprised and disappointed to have to go through this type of mental health challenge.
Why You Might Experience Depression Post-Surgery
You don’t need a reason to experience depression. It can be caused by many different things or nothing particular at all. Those who have depression after surgery might have it for any of these reasons, however:
- You already had depression before the surgery. If you currently have depression or have had it before, you are more prone to developing it after the surgery.
- You are reacting to one of the medications used. A cause of temporary depression can be the anesthesia or the painkillers you need to have during or after the surgery.
- You are in pain. While you are in the recovery process, the pain you feel can cause you to feel depressed.
- Your expectations are not being realized. If you are expected to experience less pain, have a better range of motion, or recuperate quickly, you might become depressed if these goals are coming along more slowly than you had expected.
- You are having complications. If you experience complications from your surgery, it can be very discouraging and can cause depression.
- You feel isolated. Isolation is often a cause of depression. If you are recuperating alone and can’t stick to your normal routines of socializing with people, you might begin to feel depressed.
- Your family is not coping well without you handling your normal tasks. During the recuperation period, you may not be able to handle your normal activity level. If you usually interact a lot with young children or do most of the cooking and cleaning, your family will need to adjust. If they don’t, you might feel guilty or depressed.
Signs of Depression After Surgery
It is important to be aware of the signs of depression after surgery. Remember that depression is treatable. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is important to bring them to the attention of your healthcare providers. They can help, or they can refer you to someone who can.
Some of these symptoms of depression overlap with the normal process of recovery. If they are not getting better each day or if they are getting worse over time, then it’s time to talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
- Sleeping more than expected. Of course, you need extra rest while recuperating. If you feel as though you cannot get out of bed or you are too tired to do the exercises your doctor has prescribed for you, this could be a sign of depression.
- Excessive irritability. Again, some irritability is normal after surgery because it is a stressful event. If you find that you are extremely irritable or annoyed, however, this could be a symptom of something else going on.
- A feeling of hopelessness. You should improve somewhat each day, perhaps with some stops and starts, particularly if you have complications. If you begin to feel as though you will never recover, though, or that life is hopeless for other reasons, it could be depression.
- Loss of appetite. This is another sign that could be related to the medications you’re on or the procedure you’ve had, but unless your doctor tells you otherwise, you should expect your appetite to come back a bit more each day.
- Thoughts of suicide or self-harm. This is a medical emergency. If you find yourself contemplating suicide, call your medical provider immediately. You can also call 911 or head to the emergency room.
Avoiding Depression After Surgical Procedures
There are a few things you can do to try to avoid depression after surgery. Since depression can occur in response to isolation, it might help to arrange for someone to visit you each day. Staying in a surgery recovery center like Pearl Recovery Retreat will also give you built-in contact with private duty nurses and others who will be looking out for you and helping you to recover at your own pace.
Before your surgery, talk to your healthcare providers about the expectations you should have. You should also discuss which complications you might experience. Knowing ahead of time what to expect can help you cope better if you are recovering more slowly than you thought you would. It can also help you to be realistic and not fall into the trap of expecting too much from yourself.
Talk to your family members about ways they can cope with your absence or your lack of ability to handle everything that you normally take care of. For example, it might help to make a list of the vital things that must happen each day. This may include:
- Feeding pets and children
- Getting children off to school
- Washing the dishes and laundry
This way, if they aren’t keeping up with the vacuuming or cooking elaborate meals, at least they (and you) will be assured that the basics are still getting accomplished. This can reduce your stress and your tendency to develop depression.
If you do experience the signs of depression after surgery, it is helpful to have a plan. Who should you contact? Talking about your feelings to your nurse or doctor can help you feel better. You can also ask to be referred to a counselor. In some cases, medication can help you through the hurdle. Remember that this is a finite period of time and that you will likely be feeling better once your recovery is complete.