Depression is a mood disorder that is known to affect millions of people worldwide. Depression is described as intense feelings of loss, overwhelming sadness, or anger that starts to interfere with a person’s day to day activities and also affects their social relationships. It is a fairly common disorder, and the prevalence is on the rise. Depression is especially common after suffering a serious medical condition such as a heart attack or any profound event in your life. If you have suffered a heart attack, it is quite common to experience depression later on. This is also true when the situation gets flipped around, meaning that people who have depression are also much more likely to suffer a heart attack. If you have had a heart attack and suspect that you might be experiencing depression, then it is essential to see a doctor. Let us take a look at how to handle depression after a heart attack.
Overview of Depression After a Heart Attack
If you have suffered from a heart attack, it is quite common to experience depression afterward. Even people who have depression are at a greater risk of having a heart attack later in life, as compared to those who do not have any mental health condition.(1)
If you have had a heart attack recently and suspect that you might be experiencing depression, it is important that you discuss it with your doctor. Many times it happens that certain heart disease medications and specific lifestyle changes help alleviate your mood. However, if you do have depression, then you will need treatment for the condition. This is why talking with your doctor is essential in figuring out what is causing your depression so that the proper treatment can be started at the earliest.
Some of the common signs and symptoms of depression may include:(2)
- Intense feelings of sadness
- Feelings of self-doubt or worthlessness
- Feelings of restlessness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Loss of appetite
Handling Depression After a Heart Attack
Here are some recovery tips on how to handle depression after a heart attack.
Step 1: Conduct a Depression Assessment
If you suspect that you might be suffering from depression after your heart attack, you need to bring it to your doctor’s notice. In any case, your doctor is likely to carry out a depression assessment during your routine annual physical, but if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, then you should ask your doctor for this assessment sooner than waiting for your yearly checkup.
During this depression assessment, your doctor will ask you certain questions about your mental condition, which may include when you started feeling sad, how often you experience feelings of sadness, and also what steps you are taking to get over it or treat it if any. These questions help your doctor determine if you are genuinely experiencing depression, or these are just acute symptoms that mimic the condition of depression.(3)
When you have had depression symptoms for over a period of at least two weeks or longer, then it means that you have clinical depression. Knowing the exact extent of your depression helps your doctor put you on the correct treatment path so that you can start healing sooner.
Step 2: Opt for Cardiac Rehabilitation
Cardiac rehabilitation is an essential step to take after a heart attack. Cardiac rehabilitation is an education tool that is generally recommended by all cardiologists after a person suffers a heart attack. When you undergo cardiac rehabilitation, you are told about how to eat, what to eat, what to avoid, and many other factors related to heart disease. You will also be able to understand which type of exercise you should be doing. A supervisor will be allocated to you, who will then guide you along the way.
Cardiac rehabilitation is usually done in a group setting, and it is known to have a profoundly positive effect on a person’s mood because you remain in the company of other people who have also been through something similar as you. With the support of others, you are also more likely to feel motivated on your path to recovery.(4)
Step 3: Do Not Stop Your Heart Medications
It has been found that one of the most common triggers for depression after a heart attack is not following the treatment plan prescribed by your doctor. It is absolutely important for your health and overall well-being that you take your medications correctly and on time, and also make the necessary lifestyle adjustments that your doctor has recommended.
It has been noticed that one of the very first symptoms of depression is actually apathy. It is very much possible that your feelings of depression or apathy prevent you from taking your medication and following your treatment plan. This creates a vicious cycle, and your symptoms will only continue to get worse if you do not stick to your treatment.
If you find yourself having a difficult time committing to your treatment plan, you should consult your doctor at once. It might be that you need to try out a new treatment approach or some different medications to feel better.
Step 4: Regular Physical Activity
After you have recovered sufficiently from your heart attack, your doctor will recommend that you start exercising slowly to improve your heart health and also feel better overall. You should start by trying out some small exercising that helps build up your endurance and strength. Do not exert yourself all at once.
Try to begin with something as simple as just going for a walk for half an hour a couple of times in a week. Then as your endurance and strength build-up, you can increase the pace of your walk or even try jogging. However, do not push yourself, as that can cause more harm.
Exercising regularly helps increase the levels of serotonin, which is a chemical in the brain that is associated with good mood. So every time you exercise, you are reaping the benefits for both your brain and your heart. While you are unlikely to experience the physical benefits of exercise before a couple of weeks go by, you will, however, notice that exercising puts you in a happier mood right away.
Step 5: Get Social Support
If you have a doubt that you are feeling depressed due to feeling lonely as you recover from your heart attack, then it is important to find the right social support. There are many social group programs in hospitals that offer cardiac rehabilitation. You can always ask your cardiologist for a referral. You can also check out the many different heart disease support groups that are there in your area or even online.
Reaching out to other people who are going through a similar experience as yourself, helps you open up about your condition, and you will find it easier to recover when you have the support of others.
It is very common to experience depression after having a heart attack. Your overall health is also known to have a profound effect on your mood, and your mood is known to affect your well-being. When you take care of your heart, you are likely to experience an improvement in the symptoms of depression as well. However, if you still continue to feel depressed even after several weeks of trying and making the recommended lifestyle changes, then you should consult your doctor about what the next steps should be taken.
- Day, J. (2019). Depression and Heart Disease: Johns Hopkins Women’s Cardiovascular Health Center. [online] Hopkinsmedicine.org. Available at: https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/heart_vascular_institute/clinical_services/centers_excellence/womens_cardiovascular_health_center/patient_information/health_topics/depression_heart_disease.html [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
- HelpGuide.org. (2019). Depression Symptoms and Warning Signs – HelpGuide.org. [online] Available at: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.htm [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
- Depression and Anxiety. (2019). Self tests. [online] Available at: https://depression.org.nz/is-it-depression-anxiety/self-test/ [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
- www.heart.org. (2019). What is Cardiac Rehabilitation?. [online] Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/cardiac-rehab/what-is-cardiac-rehabilitation [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].
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