Dealing with Depression after a Stroke

Deanne Stein Health Guide
  • Like a stroke, depression can strike anyone. But people with a serious illness, like stroke, are at greater risk of suffering from depression. If someone would have told me this right after my stroke, I wouldn’t have believed it. But as the months of rehabilitation went on for me, it began to sink in.

    Following my stroke, depression was far from my mind. I was so relieved to have survived, why would I be depressed? The disabilities I suffered from afterward were a little frustrating here and there, but I remember feeling happy to be alive and with my son. Before I left the state to continue my rehab at my parent’s home, my doctor told me to call him if I suddenly became depressed. I told him okay, feeling deep down that that wouldn’t happen.
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    While I never did need medication, I did slowly become blue or down in the dumps. I was living at my parent’s home away from my previously independent world. Taking care of my son, let alone myself, was a daily challenge. Not to mention, I had constant thoughts or nightmares of having another stroke. With my drawn face and speaking difficulties, I felt I would never be able to go back to reporting on television. I felt almost lost and helpless. When I was depressed, I would also feel guilty. I felt like I didn’t have a right to feel depressed when there were so many people out there that didn’t even survive their strokes. The fact that I did and felt depressed about it, made me feel worse.

    Of the 600,000 Americans who experience a stroke, an estimated 10 to 27 percent experience major depression. An additional 15 to 40 percent experience some symptoms of depression within two months following a stroke. The average duration of major depression for stroke survivors is less than a year.

    According to doctors, depression often goes undiagnosed and untreated. Sometimes, family, friends and even doctors can misinterpret depressive symptoms as just normal reactions to the effects of stroke. But depression is a separate illness that can and should be treated, even when a person is undergoing post-stroke rehabilitation.

    A doctor will decide on the best treatment for a stroke survivor. Prescription medications are sometimes given to people recovering from a stroke. But, there are possible interactions among some of those medications and side effects that require a doctor to monitor their patients carefully. Sometime, all that is needed is counseling to relieve depression.

    Recently, the American Heart Association released the results of a study. From 1997 to 1999, researchers identified those who had a stroke in one location. Nurses visited the 289 participants in their homes five years after their stroke. They found that depression was common up to five years after stroke. But on the other hand, researchers also found that the majority of people taking antidepressant medication were not even depressed.

    My depression didn’t last for long and never required medication. I think I used the negative thoughts to motivate me. I continued to get better and eventually back to normal. I know, now, that surviving my stroke was a gift. Instead of feeling guilty about it, I’m using this gift to hopefully help others survive and cope with life after a stroke.

  • American Heart Association Study on Depression and Stroke
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    Stroke Recovery Information

    What is a Stroke?
Published On: October 17, 2006