If you or a loved one has suffered a stroke, you know that much emphasis is placed on physical recovery. However, new research indicates stroke patients have increased risk for suicide, highlighting the need for better awareness and treatment of post-stroke depression. Learn the signs to look for and steps to take to manage post-stroke depressive symptoms.
Researchers at Umea University in Sweden analyzed data from more than 220,000 people who suffered a stroke between 2001 and 2012 and discovered they were twice as likely to commit suicide as the general population. The findings, just published in the journal Neurology, noted the risk for suicide is especially high during the first two years following the brain attack.
Stroke vs. Other Diseases
These latest findings reinforce 2013 research presented at the American Stroke Association's Internal Conference which found 7.8% of U.S. stroke survivors contemplate suicide, compared to 6.2% who suffered a heart attack; 5.2% of diabetes patients; and 4.1% of cancer patients.
Know the Risk Factors
Stroke can be a major, life-changing event and depression is common, occurring in as many as 40 to 50 percent of survivors. It’s often difficult to tell if a person’s depression results from adjusting to the stroke, physiological changes within the brain, or both.
Regardless of the cause, it is important to be aware of the following risk factors for depression if you or a loved one has suffered a stroke:
- History of depression
- Significant impairment, particularly language or motor deficits
- Living alone
- Occurrence of stroke before age 55
- Lack of social support
Individuals who do not fall into these high-risk groups are also susceptible to emotional adjustment following a stroke. This is because post-stroke depressive symptoms are associated with the experience of loss: loss of functioning, loss of roles, and loss of identity.
Recognizing the Warning Signs Post-Stroke Depression
Often, patients experience overwhelming grief following a stroke. However, there is a difference between the normal grieving process and depression. Seek help from your doctor or medical professional if you notice these warning signs of depression:
- Frequent episodes of crying
- Feeling helpless or worthless
- Abnormal appetite – decrease or increase
- Sleep problems – insomnia or sleeping too much
- Increased agitation or restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities previously enjoyed
- Expressing thoughts of dying or suicide
Support Following a Stroke
Some individuals benefit from support groups, counseling, or antidepressant medication to manage depression following a stroke. Depression is a serious consequence of stroke and should not be overlooked or minimized. With treatment and support the survivor’s quality of life can be improved.
A support group for stroke survivors and their caregivers meets the first Thursday of each month from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital, 675 Good Drive, Lancaster. Break-out sessions and speaker presentations are offered, based upon interests of the group.
For more information on stroke risk factors, prevention, and how to spot a stroke FAST, go to www.lghealth.org/stroke.