Understanding Post Op Depression

General Medical

Tammy George

It’s common for patients to get the blues after an operation and hospital stay. Health professionals, family members and friends are often concerned about a patient’s physical recovery that they don’t realise their mental health is suffering.

Low mood and depression can set in soon after an operation due to the general anaesthetic and pain. Sometimes it comes later when patients become depressed at not being physically able to do what they used to. The boredom of being confined in a hospital room or house is another main cause of post-op depression.

Some patients will worry about the financial pressure of not working and medical expenses that it impacts on their outlook. Not all patients can recognise that they are depressed and in need of help, so they rely on family, friends and health professionals to look out for their well-being.  

What is Depression?

Depression is a serious psychological illness that can lead to impaired decision making and difficulty with day to day life. Depression can be so debilitating that it can have a negative impact on the healing process post-surgery.

Signs of Depression

It can be difficult to determine if symptoms are due to the after-effects of surgery or depression as some symptoms are the same for both. People with a family or personal history of depression are more at risk. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • Ongoing low moods
  • Emotional
  • Loss of appetite
  • Anxiety and panic attacks
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Lack of enjoyment in things they previously enjoyed
  • Irritability
  • Feeling their situation is hopeless

If you notice one or more of these signs for two weeks or more in a post-op patient, encourage them to speak to their doctor.

What you can Do

Take the time to offer your support to ensure a patient recovers physically without their mental condition deteriorating. There are things you can do to help post-op patients avoid or recover from depression.   

  • Visit them in hospital and at home regularly
  • Take them books or magazines
  • Offer to play a game of cards or board game
  • Help them go outside to get some sunshine and fresh air
  • Encourage them to keep busy during the day
  • Remind them to be patient with their physical recovery  
  • Once home, help patients do things for themselves
  • Encourage them to resume hobbies and light exercise when well
  • Ask your patient about their emotional well-being

For the majority of patients, their mood improves with their physical recovery. For some patients, however, their mental health is impacted long after the physical scars have healed. They may need assistance from their family and friends to seek help and recover from their depression.  

Tammy George

Please note: Tammy's blog is general advice only. For further information on this topic please consult your healthcare professional.

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