Depression After Surgery: Why and What to Do

Many patients who have undergone surgical procedures report some feelings of depression, but doctors often do not warn their patients of this well-documented adverse effect. Why does depression occur in patients who have had surgeries like cardiac procedures, hip replacements, etc.? How can you know if you are depressed due to the surgery or merely struggling with the post-operative recovery? How will you know when to consider the condition serious enough to consult your medical practitioner? Read further for some answers.

How to Tell If You Have Depression After Surgery

If you have some of the following signs and symptoms for more than 2 weeks after surgery, it is possible you have post-surgery depression. Remember to confirm the diagnosis with a doctor.

  • Eating habits have changed- you’re either eating more or less than what you normally eat
  • Sleep patterns have changed- sleeping more or less than what is normal for you
  • Feeling tired all the time
  • Feeling irritated at every small thing
  • Indecisive- difficulty making simple decisions
  • Losing interest and low motivation in activities that excited you previously
  • Feeling hopeless; crying unexpectedly and frequently
  • Thinking of suicide

It is natural that some symptoms and feelings listed above are present when you are recovering from surgery-it does not necessarily mean you have depression. Surgery may affect your appetite, energy levels and your sleep patterns for a period. Pay close attention to your emotional changes, especially suicidal thoughts. You need to see your doctor immediately if you find yourself frequently thinking about committing suicide.

Why Do I Have Post-Surgery Depression?

It is not yet known what cause post-surgery depression. Some believe that it is triggered by the anesthesia or the painkillers. Others believe the digestive upsets caused by the surgery may trigger feelings of depression. Patients who have movement limitations due to the surgery and being bedridden can bring up the symptoms of depression. There could be pain not relieved by the prescribed painkillers which can lead to depression after surgery. While there is inconclusive information about the causes of depression post-surgery, there are some elements that are considered risk factors:

  • Certain types of surgeries like cardiac, hip replacement, brain and bariatric
  • Patients undergoing coronary artery bypass surgery who are single, have high cholesterol levels, smoke, have high levels of anxiety before surgery
  • Males that have urinary, intestinal or sexual dysfunction
  • Older patients (many experiencing pre-surgery depression as an underlying medical condition), especially if the surgery leaves them functionally impaired in some way

What to Do When You Have Depression After Surgery

In addition to the advice from your doctor, you can do something to minimize your post-surgery depression:

1. Do Exercises

Start exercising, like a gentle walk outside. The exercise should be what you are capable of doing and what the doctor has allowed. You will build up your strength and the change of scenery will lift you spirits.

2. Form a Daily Routine

Surgery permitting, try to normalize your day by sleeping during the night and getting up in the morning and getting dressed. Get into a daily routine. Try not to stay in your pajamas the whole day. Eat a healthy and nutritious diet to build up your physical strength. Keep to a regular daily schedule to keep your day as normal as possible.

3. Be Socially Active

Keep socially active with friends and family, even if it is only on social media. This will minimize your feelings of isolation and help you feel connected with the outside world.

4. Speak out

Release any pent-up anger and frustration you may be feeling as a result of the surgery. If you can’t speak to friends or family, make an appointment with a therapist to help you work through your feelings.

Other People's Experiences of Depression After Surgery

"I have experienced depression and anxiety for years before my surgery. After my surgery, I had pain, couldn’t do any of my daily activities or go anywhere. I had terrible depression. I felt like I had undergone some horrible trauma. After the first 3 weeks of my surgery, I became more mobile and started leaving the house. I went out shopping, meeting friends, etc. I started to feel more normal. It helped talking to my friends and family and getting back to normal life."

"After my bariatric surgery, my emotions were like an emotional roller coaster. My body shape has changed and I can't seem to get used to it. The early weeks after the surgery were the worst for me. I started going out for walks, enjoying the warm, sunny days. It took me weeks to feel mentally back to my old self. Thankfully, I did not need any medication for my depression and everyday gets better."

"I am a very independent mother of 2 boisterous children. For weeks after my surgery, I was very depressed. I would call my sister and cry for no reason. It was winter and the cold weather did not make it easier for me. One day, my sister suggested going to the hair salon. I had my hair trimmed and colored and I just snapped out of the funk I was feeling."

"I had cardiac surgery a few months ago. It was my first ever surgery. Once I got home, I couldn’t shake off my feelings of depression. During the healing process, I felt useless, worthless and a bit disoriented. The staff at the hospital did not bother to warn me about this. I searched for information online and saw that it was quite a normal response to experience depression after surgery. That made me feel better. As soon as I was able to walk around and get back to my daily schedule, I felt the depression lift."

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