Recovery following surgery can involve addressing your physical needs and mental health conditions, like depression.

Following surgery, your whole body needs to recover. It can be a traumatic experience for your body, but it can also put additional stress and strain on your mental state.

Stress associated with recovery and other potential factors can contribute to or trigger depression. If you find that you are dealing with depression following surgery, you’re not alone, and there are things you can do to help you or a loved one cope.

Pre and postoperative depression is a common occurrence. A 2016 study suggested that people with depression who undergo surgery have a higher risk of postsurgery complications, including:

  • chronic pain
  • decreased quality of life
  • mortality

Doctors don’t always screen for or ask about depression before a surgical procedure.

They also may not screen for depression following the procedure, which makes it important for you or a loved one to recognize some signs and symptoms of depression so you can seek help if needed.

Some common signs of depression may include:

  • low or depressed mood
  • loss of interest and pleasure in normally enjoyable activities
  • lack of energy
  • difficulties in thinking
  • psychomotor disturbances (restlessness, pacing, etc.)
  • hard time making decisions
  • depressed appetite
  • sleep disturbances
  • suicidal ideation

If you notice these signs in yourself or your loved ones, you may want to consider reaching out for help.

Nearly anyone can experience depression following a surgical procedure, but certain factors can increase your risk of developing depression after a procedure.

Some factors that can increase your risk include:

  • longer recovery time
  • major changes to the quality of life, such as limited mobility
  • ongoing pain or chronic illness
  • additional therapies that cause discomforts, such as chemotherapy or radiation

More serious surgeries tend to increase your risk of developing depression. Some surgeries associated with a higher risk include:

  • bariatric surgery
  • heart surgery
  • cancer surgeries
  • amputation
  • spinal surgery

Living with certain medical conditions can also increase your risk. They can include:

  • advanced age over 60
  • diabetes
  • early onset Alzheimer’s disease

In addition, living in a long-term care facility may increase your or a loved one’s risk of developing depression following surgery.

In a 2017 study, researchers found that women recovering from a mastectomy to treat breast cancer developed and lived with depression for up to 3 years following the procedure. But they also noted that they tended to recover fully, particularly younger women.

Many things can contribute to the development of depression following surgery. They can include but are not limited to the following:

  • feelings of guilt associated with being a burden on others
  • worry about recovery time
  • concerns about other treatments that may be needed
  • stress associated with missed work, changes at home, etc
  • side effects of pain medication
  • ongoing pain
  • depression before the procedure

Stress and depression are linked. A study from 2016 has shown that chronic stress can lead to the development of major depressive disorder. Experiencing stress leading up to the surgery and following could contribute to the development of depression.

If you are dealing with depression following surgery, you can try these tips to help you cope.

Try to stay active

Postsurgery activity may be limited. You may need to rest more or adjust to pain, missing limbs, or other challenges. You may find that simply getting up to bathe or change clothes can help improve your mood and make you feel more in control.

If possible, you can try to get outside or engage in light exercise.

Of course, you don’t want to do too much too soon. It would be best to ask your doctor about what activities you can do following your procedure and slowly build to doing more and more things.

Ask before you go

As you prepare for surgery, asking your doctor or the practice questions may help you best understand what to expect. Knowing more about what to expect before, during, and following surgery may help you cope.

Questions to consider asking can include:

  • How long will recovery typically take?
  • When can I return to my usual activities?
  • What activities can I continue to do?
  • Will I need follow-up care?
  • What medications will you recommend for pain?

Establish a sleep routine

Sleep can play an important role in helping you recover and can help you feel better. Consider aiming to get at least 7 hours of sleep each night. To do this, you may want to take steps such as:

  • remove all sources of light from the room
  • sleep in a cool environment
  • avoid screens before bed as well as caffeine and alcohol
  • try to go to bed around the same time each night

Make healthy choices

As you recover from surgery, you may find that eating a healthy diet can help and keep you feeling better.

A healthy diet should include a variety of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. You should also limit saturated fats, sugars, and processed foods.

Go to follow-up appointments

Following surgery, your doctor will likely schedule a follow-up appointment. Try to attend the follow-up so you can review any concerns you have and discuss how recovery is going.

In addition, if you need medication adjustments, you can talk with your doctor at the follow-up.

Sometimes, your doctor may recommend therapies to help treat depression, such as medications or talk therapy.

If a loved one has recently undergone surgery, you can help them cope with depression or recovery. Some things you can try include:

  • help them make and stick to routines
  • encourage healthy eating and movement
  • give them a chance to vent their frustrations
  • help them celebrate milestones in their recovery
  • stay positive for them

Depression following surgery is a relatively common occurrence. Several factors can contribute to it, so knowing your or a loved one’s risk factors can help you plan accordingly.

If you find you or a loved one is showing signs of depression, you may want to talk with your doctor about finding help to treat it.

You can also consider contacting the SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357). They can help connect you with a local therapist who can help you treat your depression.