Lidia Morales wouldn’t change a thing about her struggle with heart disease, even if she could. But that wasn’t always the case. Like most women who have been diagnosed with heart disease, she traveled a long road to get to that point, meeting depression and other mental hurdles along the way.
The first thing everyone thinks about following a heart attack, heart surgery or stroke is the impact on physical wellbeing. But the mental and emotional toll heart disease takes on women is very real, and not to be ignored. And getting past it can take time.
Survivors like Lidia know this all too well. In fact, studies show that up to 33 percent of heart attack patients end up developing some degree of depression, said Barry Jacobs, a clinical psychologist and director of Behavioral Sciences at the Crozer-Keystone Family Medicine Residency Program. With such a high percentage of heart disease survivors dealing with depression, it’s important to remember you’re not alone. And you shouldn’t feel like you have to overcome it by yourself. “People need to be aware of the connection (between heart disease and depression),” said Dr. Jacobs, who is also an American Heart Association volunteer. “Many treatments are available. No one needs to suffer.”
How to know if you’re depressed
Depression doesn’t show up on an X-ray. And it’s more than a temporary change in mood, like waking up and feeling out of sorts one day but feeling better the next. It has to be detected through behaviors and attitude.
Feeling indifferent, unmotivated or disinterested in things, but at the same time satisfied, is apathy. But if you’re sad, discouraged, hopeless about the future or suicidal, those are signs of depression. If you have five or more of the symptoms of depression and they last for longer than two weeks, there’s a strong possibility you may be suffering from depression. Schedule an appointment with your doctor for a medical diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.
How to handle depression
First, acknowledge that you need emotional support. Then reach out to your loved ones – they’ll want to support you.
It’s a lot to deal with. As Gail Alexander-Wright was recovering from a stroke in the hospital, the information she was taking in about her condition was too much to handle all at once. This led to depression even before she was released from the hospital. Gail was able to bounce back. And you will, too. Here are a few tips on how to cope:
Confide in someone you trust. Reach out to family members, friends or a clergy person. Those close to you may already know you’re depressed and want to help. They don’t want you to go through this alone, so let them share, and even help lift, your emotional burden.
Discuss treatment options with your doctor. Recognize that depression is part of your condition and not one more thing wrong with you. When you think of your overall recovery period, include depression as part of your treatment plan. Often, the best ways to beat depression are counseling, medication or in many cases, both.
Unload your feelings. Talk about them, write them down or join a support group. Depression is a common medical condition, not a character flaw, and you shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it. Maybe consider starting a blog, as Rachel D’Souza-Siebert did. Rachel’s struggle to cope and find balance inspired her to write about her experience. Meeting other survivors and joining a national support group also helped with healing, especially during a time where she felt very scared and lonely.
Stay active. Regular physical activity helps release endorphins that make you feel better. Physically active women have lower risk of depression and cognitive decline.a