Whether small or large, surgery is an invasive procedure that can be traumatic. Yet, the emotional ramifications of surgery are not given adequate attention. Instead, attention is focused on the physical outcome of a procedure, as the physical aspect of a person is what the surgery is meant to improve.
Varying degrees of anxiety and depression may be seen as “not unusual” or “understandable” fallout from particular types of surgery. But that doesn’t mean it should be accepted or ignored. On the contrary, it should be faced openly, honestly and compassionately.
But people undergoing surgery are often not mentally prepared for what’s to come—both before and after surgery. Many are unaware of the possibility of experiencing mental health issues at any point in the process—from minor depressive symptoms to major depression or PTSD.
It’s critical to the patient’s recovery and surgery outcome to address the emotional effects of surgery.
Prepared patients, especially those with pre-existing mental health conditions, can be more proactive in managing current symptoms and those they may develop as a result of undergoing surgery.
Since everyone is unique, every surgery is unique and has the potential for various outcomes—both physical and psychological. And these outcomes can be positive or negative, with short-lived or long-lasting results.
Some surgeries are more apt to lead to depression than others. Likewise, depression may last longer with some types of surgeries than others.
For example, women may experience post-operative depression up to three years after a mastectomy.
And, according to one study, short-term consequences of cardiac surgery included adjustment disorder with varying degrees of depression, major depression, PTSD and cognitive impairments. Although the patients’ depressive disorders generally returned to pre-surgical levels one year after surgery, 5% of these patients still displayed cognitive deficits.
Another study looked at patients undergoing hip, knee or spine surgery. Of the patients with less favorable outcomes after undergoing surgery, 25% of spine and knee surgery patients were depressed both pre-and post-surgery. After surgery, an additional 16% of spine and 10% of knee patients developed depression.
Even those undergoing optional surgeries, like cosmetic procedures, may still experience depression.
Stress, disappointment and discouragement often accompany surgery, which can lead to depression.
Factors that can contribute to post-surgery depression include:
Anxiety over the surgery
Reaction to medication
Difficulty in or inability to perform everyday tasks
Concerns about recovery
Feeling guilty about needing to depend on others
Anxiety over the financial burden of surgery and recovery
Although being proactive and addressing the psychological effects and issues that may arise after surgery, talking with a mental health care specialist at any point in the process can have improved quality of life benefits.
Even with mild mental health concerns, many find it beneficial to join a support group or talk with a therapist to understand and better manage thoughts, feelings and concerns that occur post-surgery.
This support can help patients heal and make them more likely to adopt and stick with a healthier lifestyle—improving their quality of life presently and in the future.