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Stroke and Depression: What’s the Connection?

Experiencing depression after having a stroke is more common than you think. Here’s why.

If you are experiencing depression after having a stroke, you are not alone. This mental health disorder is common among stroke survivors. Depression may be a psychological reaction to the trauma you have suffered or it may be caused by biochemical changes in the brain that occur during a stroke.

The connection between stroke and depression is not something many people know about. But in February 2023, John Fetterman, a U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, publicly announced that he was seeking treatment for clinical depression. The senator had experienced depression on and off throughout his life and suffered a stroke in May 2022. His depression became severe sometime after his stroke, causing him to seek treatment.

It is estimated that about one third of people experience some type of depression after having a stroke. It most commonly occurs during the first year post-stroke but it can happen at any time. Anxiety may also occur after a stroke, either along with depression or on its own. It is not known exactly why stroke increases the risk of depression and anxiety, but there may be more than one reason at play.

One thought is that stroke may affect the way different regions in the brain communicate with each other. This can lead to cognitive issues that impact the way a person perceives and reacts with the world, which may lead to depression. It may also be that people have to adjust to new realities of what their brain or body can or cannot do after a stroke, and this can also contribute to depression. People with a history of depression before having a stroke, such as Fetterman, may be more likely to experience depression after a stroke.

The good news is that recovering from post-stroke depression is possible. But the sooner you get help for depression, the better. Treatment may consist of antidepressant medication, as well as psychological treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy or various types of talk therapy. Psychological treatments may help people experiencing mild to moderate depression without the need for medication. However, if depression is more severe, anti-depressants are often needed in conjunction with psychological treatments.

Taking care of yourself by following healthy lifestyle habits may ease symptoms of depression. Having a strong support network is also an important component of managing depression. If your family or friends don’t offer enough support, consider finding a stroke support group.

Symptoms of Depression

Not sure if you’re depressed? If you have a few of the symptoms listed below and they persist for two weeks or more, you may be depressed:

  • Feeling sad, anxious or empty
  • Feeling hopeless, worthless or helpless
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Loss of interest in hobbies or activities once enjoyed
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Changes in appetite or weight
  • Sleeping difficulties, such as insomnia or oversleeping
  • Thoughts of suicide

If you have had a stroke, getting treated for depression not only helps improve your mood but it may improve your physical, cognitive and intellectual recovery from stroke. So see a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible if you are experiencing symptoms of depression. For more information on St. Joseph’s Medical Center’s stroke services, please visit here.

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Date Last Reviewed: March 20, 2023Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Perry Pitkow, MD

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