Depression After Stroke: How to Recover in Body and Mind

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A stroke happens when an artery in the brain gets blocked or bursts. When it damages parts of the brain that control movement, a stroke can lead to trouble with walking or speaking.

The brain is also the seat of our emotions, so a stroke can also change our ability to control our feelings. Depression is about twice as common among survivors of stroke as it is in the general population.

In addition to harming the brain directly, a stroke can change our lives in other ways. Losing the ability to speak clearly enough to be understood or enjoy our hobbies can also contribute to depression.

It is normal to feel sad after a stroke, but when it continues for weeks and interferes with your recovery, it becomes clinical depression. (To read about recovery from stroke more generally, check out our post on the topic.)

May is the national awareness month for both mental health and stroke. These tips about living a healthy emotional life after stroke can help you or a loved one recover in body, mind and spirit.

Why Are You Depressed After a Stroke?

Because it deprives brain cells of the oxygen they need to survive, a stroke damages the brain and kills brain cells. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the more parts of the brain that are permanently gone. This is why noticing the signs of stroke and prompt treatment are so important.

Sometimes, a stroke can damage the parts of the brain that regulate your emotions, which can make you more at risk of depression. Depression can hinder your ability to recover physically after a stroke. Rehabilitation can be difficult and painful, and adding depression on top can interfere with recovery time.

Studies have found stroke survivors with depression are less likely to have a full recovery and have a higher risk of dying.

Though depression can make you feel hopeless, you and your doctor can take steps to feel like yourself again.

What Can You Do About Depression?

Just as physical rehabilitation can help us move again, mental health treatment can help us reclaim our joy.

In addition to counseling and medication, AdventHealth offers occupational therapy to help a stroke survivor regain their independence in daily life. Being able to eat, walk and live a normal life by yourself can be mood-boosting.

Similarly, speech therapy can help you regain the ability to speak, write and express yourself in other ways.

Finally, while a stroke changes lives, you can still take control. Here are five suggestions the American Heart Association has for stroke patients and their caregivers to combat depression:

  1. Take Care of Yourself: If you’re taking care of someone who had a stroke, you may be at risk for depression, too. Getting enough sleep, eating right and exercising can go a long way.
  2. Stay Active and Social: Depression and physical limitations can create barriers to enjoying time with friends and family. But remaining active and social can improve your mood and fight depression.
  3. Acknowledge the Loss: It’s possible to balance a positive attitude with accepting what’s been lost. Grief and sadness are natural parts of recovery that ought to be recognized.
  4. Take Breaks: Caregivers often struggle with this, but breaks can relieve stress, preserve health and help their loved one.
  5. Identify What’s Under Your Control: Much is beyond the control of a stroke patient. But reminding ourselves and our loved ones that we still make choices that matter in our own lives can keep us optimistic.

The AdventHealth Neuroscience Institute believes caring for its patients’ emotional well-being is a vital element of whole-person health. To learn more, visit our website.

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