Nearly a third of people who experience a stroke also report feeling symptoms of depression. It is attributable to various causes, including the emotions resulting from the physical losses or the overwhelming reality of surviving a stroke and going through physical therapy to recover. Biochemical changes in the brain can also cause post-stroke depression, while brain injury can interfere with a previously normal emotional state.
Caregivers will expect their loved ones to be sad after suffering a stroke. However, it is essential to differentiate sadness from the symptoms of depression and apathy. The latter refers to a lack of interest, motivation, or enthusiasm. Apathetic people are indifferent, insensitive, and unwilling to do anything. It’s a common occurrence in people who suffer right-brain strokes.
Depression, on the other hand, is marked by feelings of extreme sadness, discouragement, and even suicidal thoughts. The symptoms of post-stroke depression are similar to those from any other cause. It takes a significant physical and emotional toll, so you should never ignore or minimize it.
How to Recognize Post-Stroke Depression
If a loved one feels or experiences the following: extreme sadness and hopelessness that lasts for longer than two weeks, no interest in therapy or socializing, and struggles to concentrate, consider seeking professional help. The list of common symptoms to look out for include:
- Persistent sadness, anxiety, or an “empty” mood
- Suicidal thoughts or attempts
- Feelings of hopelessness, guilt, worthlessness, helplessness, or pessimism
- Irritability and restlessness
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Decreased energy and feeling fatigued
- Loss of appetite or weight changes
- Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies or pastime activities, including sex
- Insomnia, oversleeping, or early-morning awakening
If at least five of the above symptoms persist for over two weeks, it could indicate depression.
Ways to Manage Post-Stroke Depression
Unfortunately, depression can hinder the rehabilitation process by making it more challenging for survivors to have a positive mind and do all the hard work required.
Treating depression improves the survivor’s mood and outlook on life. It also boosts their physical, intellectual, and cognitive recovery. It often combines therapy and medication, so a psychiatrist or psychologist can help.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is beneficial because it helps change negative thinking or behaviors that add to a stroke survivor’s depression.
- Counseling (individual or group) helps stroke survivors to work through their feelings of loss and gain a positive outlook on their future, which is their new normal.
- Nutrition is another common treatment approach. A diet rich in complex carbohydrates, Vitamin B, Omega-3 fatty acids, and folic acid helps people dealing with depression. These foods boost the brain’s neurotransmitter chemicals that affect mood. Food sources include fish, walnuts, flaxseed, oatmeal, brown rice, whole wheat, dark chocolate, oranges, broccoli, eggs, and liver.
- Exercise helps improve the mental state. For stroke survivors, adaptive equipment is available. Excellent low-impact exercises include walking, swimming, or yoga.
- Anti-depressants can help improve mood during the challenging transition period after a stroke.
Post-stroke depression does not have a one-size-fits-all solution. However, caregivers and a robust social support system play a huge part in aiding quick and successful recovery. Therefore, look to your family members and friends to let your loved one know they are loved, wanted, and not alone. Communication is critical throughout the recovery and rehabilitation period.
Stroke support groups are another form of a social support system. They provide an opportunity for survivors to socialize with each other, which helps them feel and know they are not alone. Support groups offer resources, information, and strategies for coping with stroke and recovery.
The Stroke Support Association offers free, separate support groups for survivors and caregivers every Tuesday in Long Beach. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SSA will hold these support groups virtually via the Zoom platform every Tuesday morning (10:00 am to 10:50 am for stroke survivors and 11:00 am to 11:50 am for caregivers).
We send out Zoom invitations every Monday. Send us your name and email address at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can add you to the Zoom invitation list.
Categorized in: Stroke Symptoms & Updates