Depression, anxiety, and symptoms of ADHD are the last thing that most patients think they are going to face after a surgical procedure, especially those involving general anesthesia, but a surprising number of people face exactly that.
Most people dread the concept of surgery, but draw comfort knowing that an anesthesiologist will be present to help them sleep during surgery even though they are aware that there will be post-operative pain to make it through. What many do not know is that depression, anxiety, and even symptoms of ADHD could very well be part of their post surgical recovery.
Much of the time these symptoms don’t show for several days or even weeks after a procedure. Some patients are already back at work or home before symptoms such as depression, hopelessness, sadness, anxious feelings, or insomnia occur. Though patients who already have a history of these difficulties can be affected even more strongly affected, people who have no history of depression are also prone to these problems.
This is a serious problem for a number of reasons. Depression is still stigmatized in American society and may go unrecognized by the patient’s family, friends, and co-workers. For many post-surgical patients to heal well they need to participate in their recovery. This might mean something as involved as physical therapy or could simply be walking regularly to increase blood flow and prevent the buildup of scar tissue. Depression often drains one of the ability to motivate and therefore participate, which slows the healing process and keeps the patient move deeply into depression. The despondence, anxiousness about the future, and hopelessness can also strain familial, work, and social relationships.
Some symptoms of depression to watch for in the post-surgical family member, friend, or co-worker are as follows. Please note that a depressed patient such as this may or may not feel sad or depressed and that this is by no means a comprehensive list.
- Anxiety about recovery
- Sleep disruption with difficulty going to sleep at night and/or waking in the night, unable to return to sleep.
- Lack of energy or energy that doesn’t seem to be returning as the body heals.
- Poor appetite or an unwillingness to eat
- Giving away prized possessions or abandoning hobbies and passions
- Apathy or lack of interest
- Sense of hopelessness and despair about the future
- Greater irritability than normal
While it is true that many of these could be attributed to reliance on opioids to control pain, pain itself, and the healing process, if these symptoms are still present two weeks or longer after the surgery, this is likely abnormal.
Post-surgical depression and anxiety are usually temporary and resolve within 6 months to a year. Knowing that the emotions are transient can be helpful in and of itself. But that doesn’t mean that a person suffering from depression needs to just wait it out.
It is also not safe to assume the surgeon, medical team, or primary care physician will be able to spot, diagnose, and treat this problem without prompting from the patient or patient’s close circle of family and friends. Medical personnel in America often aren’t able spend enough time with patients to see the pattern of depression and anxiety emerge post-operatively. A better course of action is for patients and their support teams to watch for the problem and mention it to a healthcare professional.
Once a healthcare professional is made aware of the problem they are likely to suggest solutions. The most likely go-to solution in our culture will be anti-depressants and/or anti-anxiety medication. The positive side to this is that it does make the patient feel better. They are also usually covered under insurance prescription plans. There can be serious negative consequences of these medications however. They are difficult to stop taking due to the physical dependence that they tend to breed. There are also side effects such as sleeplessness, loss of sexual drive, dry mouth, palpitations and more. Patients often have to “step down” the dose before weaning off of them.
An excellent alternative to pharmaceutical intervention is traditional Chinese medicine. Acupuncture, bodywork, and herbs can offer very viable alternatives to pharmaceutical anti-depressants without the side effects or physical dependency. Acupuncture balances the body and stimulates the production of endorphins, the body’s natural anti-depressants. Acupuncture can also stimulate the healing process which helps the patient recovery faster and more thoroughly. Getting acupuncture and taking herbs prior to surgery in preparation can also lessen bleeding during surgery and speed post-operative recovery time. Bodywork assists in the process as well, supplementing and supporting acupuncture’s effects. Herbal formulas support healing, reduce post-operative bleeding and infection, support healthy sleep, and can even be specifically formulated to treat depression and anxiousness.