How to help someone who is experiencing depression after surgery

Many people experience feelings of depression after surgery, no matter how small or large the operation is. Surprisingly, feelings of hopelessness and sadness are not uncommon in patients who have had a successful surgery and are on their way to a full recovery.

Despite postoperative depression being so common, it is something that people rarely talk about. If you or a loved one is having surgery, such as a hip replacement or knee replacement, it is helpful to understand why you/they might be feeling this way and the signs you can look out for so you can help get the support you/they need.

What does postoperative depression look like?

Depression during recovery from a hip or knee replacement can hit a patient at any time. Surgery involves putting your health in the hands of someone else, which can make the patient feel vulnerable and trigger strong emotions before treatment, immediately after surgery and even weeks or months on during recovery. The affects of anaesthesia and painkillers can also play a part in the way that people feel after surgery.

Feelings of fatigue, a sense of sadness and irritability are normal after any surgery. After all, the patient is probably feeling pain, discomfort, a lack of mobility and dependence on other people. However, if you or your loved one’s sadness lasts longer than two weeks, it might be time to access additional help with your/their mental health.

5 signs you or your loved might be experiencing post-surgery depression

  1. Loss of appetite or excessive eating. It’s easy to turn to food to help compensate for emotions.
  2. A sense of feeling alienated and alone. The patient has a lack of interest in spending time with others and yet feels like nobody understands what they are going through.
  3. A persistently low mood. A general feeling of fatigue, anxiousness, stress, irritability or anger that you can’t shake. 
  4. A lack on interest in doing the things you previously loved. The patient has lost interest in doing the things you previously enjoyed, such as spending time with your family, chatting to friends or reading a book.
  5. Thoughts of harming yourself or harming others. 

How to combat depression after surgery

While postoperative depression is common, there are steps that people can take to reduce the symptoms and impact that depression after surgery can have on your wellbeing.

Having someone to speak to about your feelings can help immensely. Let your friends and family listen to what you are thinking and feeling and don’t stop them from lifting you up and supporting you during your recovery. Other things you can do include spending time outdoors (the natural sunlight is a great mood enhancer), getting enough sleep, maintaining a balanced diet, spending time with people you care about, listening to music, playing games you enjoy and doing activities you love.

If you or a loved are at wit’s end and are struggling to get back on track, reach out to your doctor or to a professional who can provide support or prescribe something to treat your depression. If you are having a bad day and need immediate support, you can also call Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636.

Remember, most people have experienced some form of depression at one time in their lives. There’s no shame in seeking help and support if you or your loved one need it. 

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5 Aug 2019

Published by Stuart MacKenzie

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