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After Surgery Depression

Annabel A.

After any major surgery, one runs the risk of developing some postoperative complications. One such complication is after surgery depression or postoperative depression, which can affect anyone.

Postoperative depression can develop for many different reasons – both with physical and psychological aspects. The sudden change in routine or constant discomfort can all contribute to developing postoperative depression and, in turn, delay a person’s recovery process.

Experiencing depression after surgery can be confusing and worrying, but knowing how to spot the signs, getting early treatment, and building a sound support system can help you manage your depression.

After Surgery Depression

Depression Symptoms

Knowing which depressive symptoms to look for is vital because depression after surgery can result in a slower healing process. Therefore, the quicker you notice the signs, the faster you will get treatment and get better.

1. Low Mood

Look out for any sudden changes in how you feel.

Perhaps the most important of the depressive symptoms is a near-constant low mood, often coupled with feelings of hopelessness or despair. It is because of this that depression is classified as a mood disorder. Depression can also cause self-loathing, lower self-esteem, or general pessimism.

2. Fatigue / Sleep Schedule

Another prominent symptom of depression after surgery is sudden fatigue or sudden changes in your sleep schedule that weren’t present before. Of course, it’s normal to feel tired after any major surgery. However, you may find yourself sleeping throughout the entire day, taking daytime naps, or find yourself struggling with insomnia. This could be a sign of postoperative depression.

3. Mind

Many people who feel depressed after surgery experience sudden changes in their minds. These changes can include difficulty making decisions, struggling to remember things, or difficulty concentrating when you have never been scatter-brained before. This is because depression is as much a mental illness as it is a physical illness.

4. Eating Habits

Many people who experience depression also experience sudden changes in their diet and eating habits. This could be suddenly eating much more than usual or going through bouts of binge eating, or a sudden loss of appetite.

5. Loss of Interest / Lethargy

An unexpected lack of interest in hobbies or things you enjoyed before can also be a symptom of depression after surgery. General lethargy is another prominent symptom of depression. It is defined as a lack of energy or enthusiasm for everything around you.

It could cause talking slower than usual, slower movements, not wanting to get out of bed in the mornings, or make you feel unmotivated to do anything at all.

6. Irritability

Other mood changes caused by postoperative depression could include irritability, restlessness, frustration, or impatience.

Depression impairs the body’s ability to regulate emotions. The sadness and despair (typical symptoms of depression) are often described as a manifestation of anger turned inwards. However, this anger or hostility could also be directed outwards and manifest in feelings of irritability or short-temper towards others.

7. Anxiety

While anxiety is a mood disorder / mental illness all on its own, it does often go hand-in-hand with depression. Anxiety can feel like inexplicable feelings of fear or dread, often over things that don’t necessarily warrant this amount of stress.

Feeling stressed or having stress-related symptoms by itself is not necessarily a signal that you have anxiety. However, when you find yourself stressing over hypothetical situations or things that would not have caused anxious feelings before, it could be that you have developed depression and anxiety after surgery.

8. Self-Harm

The most dangerous of the depressive symptoms is the desire to self-harm or the sudden development of suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

Suppose you find yourself thinking about death and suicide often during your recovery process, or you have harmed yourself. In that case, it is a clear sign that you’re suffering from postoperative depression. It is best to schedule an appointment with your physician or a therapist as soon as possible. You could also mention it to your surgeon in one of your follow-up appointments so that you can get treatment.



Experiencing depression post-surgery can be caused by various factors, both physical and psychological. Because depression can delay your recovery time, it is essential to understand what drives your depression to develop a successful treatment plan.

It is best to discuss the possible underlying causes with a healthcare professional. Read on for some common causes of postoperative depression that could help you narrow down what caused yours.


In nature, a wounded animal instinctively reacts to the pain and trauma with decreased energy. So then, it is not surprising that human bodies often respond similarly to postoperative pain. Any extensive surgery causes severe trauma to the body and leads to chronic pain and discomfort. Even in more minor surgeries, the discomfort can trigger your body into having the same reaction. Unfortunately, even minor surgeries are invasive, and people often don’t realize the trauma that can cause.

The pain, discomfort, and loss of independence that follows any surgery can bring on a sudden awareness of our own vulnerability and mortality as human beings. This feeling of postoperative mortality can then evolve into depression at a later stage.


The lack of energy can also be attributed to emotional stress before and during the operation. When your body goes through trauma, it is normal to experience stress. Many people also experience stress related to the hefty financial costs of such a significant operation.


Postoperative depression can also be an adverse reaction to certain medications, such as the anesthesia used during the operation or the antibiotics and pain-relievers prescribed to you after your surgery.

What to Expect

Knowing what to expect before, during, and after your operation helps ease or prevent depression after surgery. Discuss any questions or uncertainties with your doctor, and make sure that you ask the following questions:

  • How long will it take to recover physically post-surgery?
  • What is the purpose of my medication?
  • What are the possible side effects of my medication?
  • When and how regularly will I have follow-up appointments?
  • Which emergency numbers can I call?
  • Which symptoms can I expect in the following weeks?

What To Do

If you are experiencing postoperative depression, it is important to remember that your feelings are valid and normal. For most patients, the depression will subside within the first three weeks after they undergo surgery, without treatment. However, if you find yourself struggling with these symptoms of depression for longer than three weeks, it is best to get immediate help.

There are some ways to ease and manage the symptoms of depression, which will aid in a quicker recovery and help you stay positive.

Every Day

Getting out of bed every day is essential to your physical health and mental health.

Getting out of bed and ready for your day might help you feel more confident and in control. It could give purpose to your day, provide you with a healthy routine, and encourage you to sleep well at night.

Taking a bath or shower each day will help you feel cleaner and, therefore, more comfortable. In some cases, baths also help alleviate some post-surgery discomfort.


After a severe operation, it is essential to remain mobile. While you shouldn’t do any heavy exercise, especially during the first month after your surgery, it is important to walk for a while every day to prevent blood clots.

Following an exercise plan in the comfort of your own home, however light, will also enable your body to release much-needed “feel-good” hormones, which will lessen the effects of your depression. Unfortunately, it is often the case after a large operation that your body cannot produce enough of these hormones since you can’t move as much as you had before. This can lead to depression after surgery.

Research suggests that a vitamin D deficiency may also be responsible for, or worsen, depression after surgery. For this reason, spending a short amount of time in the sun each day – perhaps taking a short walk in the garden – might relieve some of your symptoms.


Getting enough sleep is as crucial to your recovery and your mental health. An adequate amount of sleep each day enables your body to heal from physical trauma and exertion and allows your brain to process emotional information. For example, in the case of depression caused by emotional stress, getting enough sleep is vital to working through those emotions and overcoming them.


Maintaining a healthy diet will control your weight and provide you with the nutrients your body needs to heal during your recovery.

Healthcare professionals recommend sticking to a healthy diet because it helps the mind and body feel clearer and more alert. This could help counteract some of the lethargy of depression after surgery. Additionally, taking in healthy foods helps the mind concentrate better.

Whereas an unhealthy diet will only worsen the effects of postoperative depressive symptoms.


It is common for people with depression to isolate themselves from their friends and family members. However, this is counter-productive when trying to manage depression after surgery.

Emotional support is just as important as physical support during the recovery period. Having someone there to support you may also give you a much-needed distraction from depressive thoughts.

If you don’t have a friend or family member who can support you during this time, you could look into some local support groups. There are also many support resources available online.


In extreme cases or prolonged depression following your surgery, it may be necessary to get help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. They would be able to perform an official mental health diagnosis and prescribe a course of treatment. For example, you may need regular talk therapy sessions, temporary anti-depressant medication, or a combination of both.


Postoperative Depression FAQs

Which surgeries have a higher risk of depression?

A patient can develop depression after any surgery, however big or small. However, specific procedures are thought to come with a greater risk of developing depression.

Any surgery that causes chronic pain or is accompanied by treatments that cause chronic discomfort (such as chemotherapy) can end up causing depression. In addition, major operations that have a long recovery time or cause a significant change in a person’s life (such as sudden loss of mobility) can also cause depression.

Operations like cancer operations, amputations, and spinal surgery have a significant risk factor of developing depression.

What other risk factors are there for postoperative depression?

Some patient-related risk factors and previous health conditions could heighten your chance of developing postoperative depression.

A patient with diabetes already has a higher risk of developing depression in general and would stand a higher risk of developing it post-op. People who have to remain in intensive care units after surgery have a bigger chance of developing depression. Elderly patients or people who already have Alzheimer’s may also develop depression following extensive surgery.

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