Depression After Surgery


Surgery is a common medical procedure that involves opening the body to access, remove or repair tissues, organs, and bones. While surgery is often beneficial, it can be a stressful experience that may cause physical and emotional challenges for patients. Among the emotional challenges that surgery patients can experience is depression.

Depression is a mental health disorder characterised by persistent feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in activities. Although it can affect anyone, depression is a common experience among those who have undergone surgery. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at depression after surgery and how to manage it.

Why surgery can cause depression

Surgery can be a traumatic experience that can trigger complex emotional reactions such as anxiety, fear, sadness and grief. Factors that may contribute to depression after surgery include:


Pain is a common experience after surgery. Pain can cause discomfort, physical limitation, and negatively affect routine activities such as sleeping, eating, and walking.

Discomfort and irritation

Post-surgery discomfort and irritation can also contribute to depression. Incisions, bandages, and tubes can cause itching, inflammation, and general discomfort. These can cause agitation and distress, leading to depression.

Lifestyle changes

Post-surgery, certain lifestyle changes, such as diet restrictions, mobility limitations, and a decrease in physical activity, can impact an individual’s sense of control over their lives. As such, it can lead to psychiatric disorders, including depression.


Certain drugs used to alleviate pain and promote the healing process after surgery can have side effects that result in depression. These drugs may cause drowsiness, decreased appetite, and fatigue, which negatively impact an individual’s emotional wellbeing.

Signs and symptoms of depression after surgery

The signs and symptoms of depression after surgery can vary for each patient, but they generally include:

Low mood

Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair are common among people with depression. It is normal to experience feelings of sadness after surgery, but when these feelings persist and interfere with daily life, it may be a sign of depression.

Loss of interest

People suffering from depression may lose interest in things they once found enjoyable, including hobbies, family and friend interactions, and even work.

Difficulty sleeping

Sleep is essential for the body’s recovery process, but depression can make it difficult to fall or stay asleep. Insomnia or excessive sleeping patterns can be a sign of depression.

Low energy

Depression can cause fatigue, and the feeling of being physically and emotionally drained.

Change in appetite

Depression can affect an individual’s appetite, causing them to overeat or under-eat. This may lead to unexpected weight gain or loss.

Other symptoms

Other symptoms of depression include difficulty concentrating or making decisions, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, physical pain, and suicidal thoughts.

Preventing Depression After Surgery

Preventing depression after surgery is essential to help patients recover and return to their normal life. Here are some helpful tips to prevent depression after surgery:

Keep Busy

After surgery, take on small tasks that are manageable and not overly taxing. Engaging in mild activities such as reading or walking can help keep your mind off of the stress that arises from not being able to do much. Tackling small tasks daily can also assist in improving confidence and self-respect.

Practice self-care

Self-care refers to taking care of your physical and emotional wellbeing. After surgery, it is essential to look after your health and wellbeing by eating well, drinking enough fluids and napping when needed. Meditation, Yoga, and deep breathing exercises are also beneficial.

Ask for help

It may be difficult to perform simple tasks after surgery. Therefore, it’s vital to ask for assistance when needed, either from family members or health care providers.

Maintain A Social Support Network

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, maintaining a supportive social network of family and friends can provide much-needed companionship, assistance, and guidance to help prevent depression after surgery.

Treatment of Depression After Surgery

If you’re experiencing depression after surgery, it is essential to speak with your doctor or a mental health professional who can guide and support you. Here are some treatment options for depression after surgery:


Therapy, either individually or in groups, is an effective way to treat depression. Talk therapy involves talking about your feelings and concerns with a professional who can provide guidance and support.

Anti-Depressant Medication

Your healthcare provider may recommend anti-depressant medication to help relieve depression. Anti-depressants are prescribed selectively based on the individual’s presentation.

Light Therapy

Light therapy involves exposure to bright light to stimulate the brain and improve mood. This therapy is used to treat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

TMS is a noninvasive therapy that helps treat depression by stimulating specific areas of the brain to enhance mood, increase energy, and reduce pain.


Dealing with depression after surgery can be emotional and challenging. Fortunately, it’s a treatable condition that requires proper medical care, lifestyle modifications and self-care techniques. By following these tips and seeking help from professionals, it’s possible to recover and return to your regular life.


FAQs About Depression After Surgery

1. What causes depression after surgery?

Depression after surgery can be caused by a variety of factors, including the physical trauma of the surgery itself, the stress of recovery, the side-effects of medication, and changes in body image or lifestyle. Some people may also have a pre-existing mental health condition that is exacerbated by the surgery.

2. How is depression after surgery different from normal recovery feelings?

It is normal to experience some feelings of sadness or anxiety after surgery as your body heals and adjusts to changes. However, depression after surgery is characterized by prolonged and intense feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and a lack of interest in activities that you may have previously enjoyed. It may also be accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, changes in eating and sleeping patterns, and body aches.

3. What can I do if I think I am experiencing depression after surgery?

If you are experiencing symptoms of depression after surgery, it is important to speak to your healthcare provider as soon as possible. They may recommend therapy, medication, or other treatments to help manage your symptoms. It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating well, getting plenty of rest, and staying active as much as possible. Additionally, leaning on support from loved ones and seeking out counseling can be helpful in managing depression after surgery.


1. Kahlbaum, L. (2020). Postoperative depression risk factors and recognition. American Journal of Nursing, 120(6), 29-34.
2. Saghafi, M., & Alipour, F. (2019). The prevalence of depression after elective surgery and its correlation with demographic and clinical factors. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing, 34(1), 12-16.
3. Zhang, J., Chen, M., Niu, X., & Huang, X. (2021). Moderator role of coping styles in the relationship between postoperative pain and depression. BMC Psychiatry, 21(1), 1-8.