Post-Surgery Depression: How to cope

Recovering from surgery can be a deeply emotional experience. The desire to return to your “normal” life right away may be overwhelming, but your body needs time to heal. You may find it difficult to get around or take care of yourself in the same way that you’re used to. You may experience pain and discomfort. And you may feel fear in the face of your own mortality.

If any of this sounds familiar, you could be struggling with postoperative depression. While depression is an all-too-common complication after surgery, it isn’t always properly diagnosed. But according to the medical journal, BMC Surgery, untreated post-surgical depression can lead to higher rates of infection, cognitive impairment, and acute and chronic pain.

To stay both physically and mentally healthy after surgery – and get back on the road to recovery as quickly as possible – it’s crucial to receive proper screening and timely treatment for postoperative depression.

Why People Get Depressed After Surgery

The exact cause of post-surgery depression is unknown, but certain contributing factors have been identified. For example:

  • Reactions to pain relievers

  • Reactions to anesthesia

  • Lack of sleep

  • Physical, mental, and emotional stress

  • A history of depression or anxiety

Evidence also suggests certain surgeries put patients at higher risk of developing postoperative depression. MD Magazine reports patients undergoing hip replacements or brain surgery experience particularly high rates of depression. Also, according to the American Heart Association, depression affects up to 25 percent of cardiac surgery patients.

Signs of Post-Surgery Depression

The sooner you’re treated for depression, the better your chances of a rapid recovery from surgery. Knowing the warning signs can help you to obtain an early diagnosis and begin receiving treatment as soon as possible.

Symptoms of postoperative depression include:

  • Persistent sad mood

  • Feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness

  • Loss of interest in once-beloved activities

  • Irritability

  • Significant changes in sleep patterns

  • Loss of appetite

  • Memory problems

  • Thoughts of suicide or self-harm

How to Manage Depression After Surgery

Treatment for depression often includes some combination of medication and psychotherapy. Your doctor will determine a treatment plan that’s right for you, but lifestyle changes can help improve your mood and increase your chances of a speedy recovery.

Here are a few tips for managing postoperative depression:

  • Establish routines.

Getting back in the swing of things can be difficult after surgery, especially if you’re dealing with pain and limited mobility. But routines give a purpose and structure to your days, providing you with much-needed stability. Stick to a regular sleep schedule, eat at regular intervals, and when possible, resume daily habits.

  • Go outside.

Exercise isn’t always possible after surgery, but even a short, leisurely stroll in nature can have a significant positive impact on your outlook. Your energy improves simply by breathing fresh air and feeling the warm sun.

  • Eat well.

A healthy diet provides your body and mind with the nutrients needed to heal properly. Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids can improve your mood, while those high in sugar, alcohol, or caffeine may exacerbate depression.

  • Keep a journal.

Focus on the positive by maintaining a daily gratitude journal. Keeping track of small, daily wins can help you see the progress you’re making in your recovery – which can be especially beneficial when you’re feeling overwhelmed.

  • Ask for help.

Don’t be afraid to reach out to friends and family members. Staying connected with loved ones can ward off depressive symptoms, and accepting help in establishing routines, preparing meals, or cleaning your house can take the pressure off and allow you to concentrate on your recovery.

Recover from surgery at Bella Vista Health Center

You don’t have to struggle with post-surgical depression alone. At Bella Vista Health Center in San Diego, we offer short-term rehab to help you recuperate from surgery in a safe, supportive, and therapeutic environment. We provide round-the-clock nursing care, healthy and delicious meals, and a full suite of rehabilitative services. Additionally, our medical staff monitors each of our patients for the symptoms of depression, ensuring timely treatment for a full, successful recovery.

For more information on our inpatient rehab program, call us at (619) 399-7920.