How to Deal with Post-Surgical Depression

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Surgery is a disorienting experience that the vast majority of us will experience, at most, no more than a few times during our lives. Out of the comfort of our homes, separated from loved ones and subject to the continued scrutiny and ministrations of strangers, we are forced to rely upon these same strangers for all of our needs, down to the most personal levels.

It is perhaps for these reasons that, even when no pre-existing depression disorder exists, patients often experience depression after surgery.

Who is at Risk

Certain surgeries are more likely to result in depression, including heart surgery, cancer surgery, bariatric surgery and brain surgery.

Those who are already suffering from depression, or who have in the past, or who have a family history of depression are most likely to experience post-surgical depression. Single people are more likely to suffer post-surgical depression, as are smokers.

What Causes Post-Surgical Depression

There are a number of theories about the causes of post-surgical depression, including:

Anesthesia which might cause a lingering disruption of brain chemistry;

Pain which might not be fully resolved by prescribed medications;

Medications , a number of which have depressive symptoms as side effects, as well as others that can create withdrawal issues;

Digestive upsets that can result from taking certain medications;

Being bedridden or having limitations on movement can be frustrating and disruptive to daily living;

Post-Surgical Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PSTSS) is a variant of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that occurs after surgical treatment.

Generally speaking, post-surgical depression is the result of any of a number of unresolved issues, including: an extended period where there is pain; inability to gain restful sleep; fear of continued disability; medication side effects; the need to make difficult and stressful decisions about treatment; disruptions to earning ability; difficult interactions with health care providers or insurers; family issues related to need for care; or long-term prognosis. A confrontation with one’s own mortality, more than anything else, might be the trigger for depression.

How to Treat Post-Surgical Depression

Too few doctors consider post-operative depression to be their issue to treat. Even when patients complain about the symptoms of depression many physicians dismiss such symptoms as “part of the healing process” and encourage their patients to “tough it out.”

As in most cases of depression, medication and talk therapy are both effective treatments and should be included in the post-operative period. If the surgeon is not prepared to offer such treatment, the patient should not hesitate to speak to their primary care physician, or to seek out mental health providers for help.

To regain good health it is important to make certain that regular sleep patterns are maintained, a healthy diet is consumed and as much exercise as possible in the circumstances is gotten. It is also important that the recuperating patient gets out of bed each day and dresses, and that daily schedules are kept as close to normal as possible.

All of these can help in maintaining a healthy mood.

Sources: Depression Toolkit, and Harvard Magazine


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