It is well known that a stroke can have a significant impact on a person’s health and later life. Many of these effects are physical and, therefore, easily recognizable, while others are more difficult to notice, especially when they manifest in thoughts and feelings. In this article, we will look at mental health consequences, in particular, depression and anxiety after stroke.
Thoughts and emotions can change behavior and signal that something is wrong. Quite often, people who have survived a stroke suffer from mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, these problems are often unrecognized and therefore left untreated.
The effects of stroke on mental health
The effects of stroke on the human psyche can manifest in a variety of ways. Studies have shown that stroke-survivors have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety. At least one in three people after a stroke suffers from depression, while approximately one in five has post-stroke anxiety. It is not uncommon for people to suffer from both conditions at the same time and other psychological problems as well. About as often as depression, stroke survivors suffer from post-stroke apathy. Other less common but still devastating disorders include post-traumatic stress disorder, emotional liability, and personality changes. Changes in the psyche do not always lead to mental illness, but in some cases, they become pathological and interfere negatively with a person’s life.
To feel sadness, despair, and to be gloomy for some time after a person has had a stroke, is normal. A stroke is undoubtedly not only a physical but also an emotional turmoil. However, the depressed mood may become prolonged and so deep that it develops into a depression, which can significantly impact a person’s ability to feel joy and to execute everyday activities. A person who has depression may feel gloomy and exhausted for a prolonged time, he might lose interest in things and activities that previously brought joy, speech and movements may become sluggish, feelings of hopelessness and guilt can emerge.
Often a depressed person may lose his appetite or, on the contrary – may start overeating. Sleep disturbances may arise, which can manifest either as insomnia or the other way around – hypersomnia or severe drowsiness. Unfortunately, a person with depression may find themselves with suicidal thoughts. Many reliable depression tests are available to help recognize symptoms and signs of depression. However, only a doctor may establish a diagnosis.
After experiencing a stroke, a person may feel fearful, agitated, or worried for some time. If the agitation is overwhelming and accompanied by other specific symptoms, a person may have developed post-stroke anxiety. A person who suffers from anxiety feels worried often, or even all the time. It is difficult to get rid of the worrisome thoughts, they may be tense and have difficulty relaxing. They may also become easily irritable or develop somatic symptoms such as heart palpitations or increased sweating, among others.
Anxiety can also cause sleep disturbances, fatigue, and eating disorders. Not all people experience anxiety in the same way, and there is more than one form of anxiety disorder. These include generalized and phobic anxiety. A phobia is characterized by a fear of specific situations. Generalized anxiety, on the other hand, produces general worry that can be about different situations, in all aspects of life. Phobic anxiety is more common among stroke survivors, but they may develop any other form.
In the case of post-stroke phobic anxiety, an anxiety attack may be provoked by a specific situation. It is usually associated with fear of having another stroke or with the moment they actually had a stroke. It could be a variety of situations. For example, stroke survivors are quite often afraid of going out alone, being in a crowded place, or using public transportation. They may have a fear of staying home alone or doing some specific activity, for example, exercising. Unconsciously, this fear can influence a person to change their behavior and to avoid a variety of activities in their everyday life.
Consequences of depression and anxiety after stroke
Both depression and anxiety can cause suffering, distorted thinking and negatively affect the recovery from stroke, and the general health of a person. Research suggests that post-stroke mood disorders negatively impact the rehabilitation progress and recovery results, and also significantly lowers the person’s quality of life. Furthermore, these problems also affect the relatives and caregivers of stroke survivors, increasing their risk of suffering from exhaustion and depression themselves.
Only a doctor may confirm the diagnosis of depression or anxiety disorders. However, the person suffering, sometimes with the help of their caregivers, may recognize the symptoms of these disorders and can, therefore, seek medical advice. Personal habits play an important role in regulating mood; therefore, the doctor may initially recommend some lifestyle changes. However, the main evidence-based treatment methods used for managing mood disorders are psychotherapy and specific medications.
In addition to these methods, there are other interventions available that offer a chance for the person to help themselves to improve their well-being. These include a variety of meditation practices, breathing exercises, mindfulness-based training, relaxation techniques, and many other promising methods. However, the most widely used method in treating mood disorders is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). It is a psychotherapy form that can be implemented not only within a therapist’s office but also with the help of digital solutions. This kind of digital therapy is provided by Vigo chatbot, which carries out a CBT-based conversation to help stroke survivors who suffer from depression, anxiety or other mental health issues.