Depression After Surgery: What to Know & How to Address It

Depression After Surgery: What to Know & How to Address It

Getting through surgery is a huge deal—and, when it’s over, you expect to breathe a sigh of relief. But having the big day behind you doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll feel happier when all is said and done. From the woes of physical pain to the stress surgery can put on you and those around you, depression after surgery is something many patients experience upon recovering from a procedure. Today, then, we’re breaking down all you need to know about what post-op depression is, what causes it, and how you can effectively address it.

Is it normal to experience depression after surgery

Yes. It is completely normal to experience depression after surgery, regardless of the type of procedure you’re having.

Why is depression after surgery common?

Surgery puts our bodies—and our minds—through an incredible amount of stress. Whether it’s a shattered notion of invincibility, facing costly medical bills, or having feelings of hopelessness due to limited physical ability, there are a number of reasons undergoing a procedure can cause a patient to feel depressed. Plus, physical pain and discomfort—coupled with the feeling of invasiveness patients are often left with after surgery—can also lead to post-op depression. also cites reactions to anesthesia and reactions to painkillers as factors in depression after surgery.

Increased dependency and vulnerability can also play a major role in how we feel after surgery. Facing a prolonged recovery period—and knowing you’re going to be physically limited and/or dependent on family and friends for a while—can certainly cause feelings of despair, particularly if you’re typically an independent or active person. Suddenly going from being the backbone of your household to someone who is unable to perform daily tasks on her own can be a trigger for depression after surgery.

What are the symptoms of depression after surgery?

According to, it can be difficult to differentiate between the normal feelings of sadness that come with recovering from a procedure and true post-op depression (overlapping symptoms include fatigue and irritability)—but the main difference is that depression after surgery lasts longer than two weeks and can even persist for months. Symptoms to keep an eye out for include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Feelings of guilt
  • Irritability
  • Fidgeting or restlessness
  • Loss of appetite or eating more than normal
  • Panic attacks
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or others
  • Loss of interest in activities

How do I address post-op depression?

Recovering from depression after surgery is a slow-and-steady process—you won’t feel better overnight…but there are a number of steps you can take both before and after surgery to help prepare for and combat post-op depression:

  • Before Surgery: Addressing depression after surgery often starts with what you do before surgery. It’s all about being proactive. Have a strong support system in place—whether that means a therapist you can talk to or a friend who’s only a phone call away. Above all, talk to your doctor about what you can expect—especially if you have a history of depression or mental illness. While we often consider physical preparations (setting up a ride, picking up our prescriptions, preparing our house, eating well, etc.), it’s just as important to focus on preparing yourself mentally and emotionally as well. 
  • After Surgery: If you’re experiencing depression after surgery, there are a number of things you can try to help enhance your mood. According to, these include: spending time outdoors, getting enough sleep, eating healthy, spending time with loved ones, and finding ways to pass the time (listening to music, reading, playing games) while you recover. Forming routines and doing your best to stick to a healthy sleep schedule can also help. 

It’s also important you don’t bury your feelings—oftentimes, this can make feelings of depression after surgery worse. Know that post-op depression is common, that you shouldn’t feel guilty or embarrassed about it, and that you’re not alone. Because depression can affect you physically and can even lead to a prolonged recovery, it’s important you let your doctor know what’s going on.  She will be able to recommend supplements or, if necessary, prescribe medications that won’t interfere with your recovery and post-op meds.

Want even more insightful recovery tips? Browse the rest of our blog for empowering pre-op information, helpful nutrition advice, and tips!