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Dr. James D. Namnoum | Board Certified Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon

Depression After Surgery: Symptoms, Causes, and How to Cope

An individual lying on a sofa wrapped in a comforter, looking withdrawn and depressed.
Recovery after surgery is different for everyone — some may experience a fast rehabilitation while others recover more slowly. Common after-surgery issues may include:

Some people may even experience depression after having surgery. A study in 2015 found that 24% of patients identified as depressed after surgery while 40% identified as anxious.

Knowing the causes, symptoms, and treatments of post-surgery depression can help you better manage the mental health effects and recover faster.

What Is Post-Surgery Depression?

Post-surgery depression is a persistent feeling of sadness and hopelessness after an operation. It’s important to note that it’s typical for people to feel sad or vulnerable after surgery. After-surgery symptoms can affect your appetite, sleep, and energy. However, if those feelings last longer than two weeks, it could be depression.

Whether small or large, surgery is an invasive procedure that can be traumatic. It’s important to consider the energy it takes to prepare for surgery as well as what doctors can do to successfully inform their patients about the risk of post-surgery depression.

Causes of Post-Surgery Depression

People may feel bad after surgery, and they might find certain tasks difficult that weren’t before. This scenario can cause stress, disappointment, and discouragement, which can lead to depression.

Other factors that can contribute to post-surgery depression include:

Additionally, some people may be more susceptible to post-surgery depression than others. For instance, due to an increase in hormones, new mothers may experience a multitude of emotional and physical changes. In contrast, many mothers may want to partake in mommy makeovers to obtain a physical goal. However, they should ensure they are not experiencing symptoms of postpartum depression before they partake in surgeries.

Symptoms of Post-Surgery Depression

Even if you are getting cosmetic surgery like a facelift or a tummy tuck and do not have any apprehensions going into it, you still may experience depression afterward. Common symptoms include:

It’s important to take time to understand if you are experiencing post-surgery depression.

What Surgeries Have a Higher Risk of Depression?

While any serious surgery can lead to depression, some surgeries are more likely to cause depression than others. Studies have suggested that:

Additionally, various factors can affect your mental health after surgery, including:

Since everyone’s recovery is different, it’s crucial to prepare for depressive symptoms just in case. That way, you can use your recovery time to heal both physically and mentally.

How to Cope With Post-Surgery Depression

Knowing how to cope with post-surgery depression can help you make more informed decisions about your recovery method. For instance, you may find it prudent to enroll in support groups or therapy to manage overwhelming feelings. Additionally, there are various ways to cope with this depression that many people have found helpful.

Stay in Touch With Your Doctor

Your doctor is the best person to help with depression, as they already know your medical needs. You may need medication, and your doctor can ensure that any treatments do not interfere with your post-surgery care. Additionally, doctors have access to mental health professionals; your doctor should be able to recommend someone to help you manage your depression.

Get Out of Bed Every Morning

Just getting out of bed can feel like a herculean task when you’re feeling hopeless. However, staying in bed might add to your depressive state. Performing small tasks, like getting out of bed every day, making your bed, and getting dressed, may boost your mood and give you a sense of accomplishment.

Reach Out to Friends and Family

Depression can make you feel isolated and alone. While it can be hard to talk about your mental health, it’s important to reach out to friends and family to obtain the support needed to recover properly. Talking about depression with others can help you uncover coping methods that may suit you better, or can allow you to get things off your chest.

Go Outside

Nature has a profound effect on those suffering from depression. A study found that walking in nature offers various benefits to a person’s mental health and may reduce the impact of depression. People who walked in a natural area for 90 minutes showed decreased activity in the region of the brain associated with depression.

Exercise in Moderation

Exercising can help lessen depressive feelings because you release endorphins during the activity. Research suggests that people who participate in a long-lasting exercise regimen display greater improvements in depression and anxiety recovery. Luckily, the same research shows that resistance-training programs are just as effective as cardio programs. Lastly, the research indicates that running is just as effective as psychotherapy sessions.

Follow a Healthy Diet

A bad diet can be detrimental to your health, and research shows that a diet that consists of fruit, vegetables, and other healthy foods is associated with a decreased risk of depression. Additionally, a healthy diet can lead to better weight management, feeling better physically, and getting important nutrients for your recovery. Be sure to limit processed foods, added fats, added sugar, and alcoholic drinks, as these foods have been known to increase depression.

Maintain a Regular Sleep Schedule

Fatigue is a major symptom of depression. Creating a regular sleep schedule can counteract this symptom while helping you recover physically. When creating a routine, be sure to wake up and go to bed at the same time, avoid daytime naps, and leave electronics outside the room.

Set Goals

Setting goals for recovery can help you remember that there is an end time to healing. Additionally, keeping track of your recovery progress can help you manage your depression. Your improvement goals should be simple and attainable. Some examples include being able to perform tasks every day, like physical therapy exercises or walking.

Although recovering from surgery can take time and is different for everyone, most people return to their lifestyle before surgery. However, depression can lengthen the recovery process. If you are feeling symptoms of depression, be sure to talk to your doctor.

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