This article, written by Dr. Lisa Holland, appeared in the Columbia Notebook, Spring/Summer, 2007
Jen, who lives with her husband and two children, recently underwent an unexpected double bypass surgery. At 50, her course of healing should have been uncomplicated. But six days after surgery, she developed a fear of being alone and would stay up extremely late because she was afraid to fall asleep.
Over a period of several months, her once-savored walks with Toby, the family dog, dwindled down to once a week until finally she stopped walking him at all. When Doug, her husband, told her that he was worried about her, she cried.
Through her tears she replied:
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me, all I know is that I’m scared I’ll have another heart attack.”
Jen knew that heart disease is the number one killer of women, but she didn’t know about the relationship between heart disease and depression.
The emotional risk factors of chronic stress and anxiety, social isolation, depression and lack of coping strategies can increase the risk of heart disease or worsen a pre-existing condition. In many cases, people who are depressed either don’t acknowledge their symptoms, or convince themselves that they will be okay, especially if they were not diagnosed with depression before the cardiac event.
The complexity of emotions that accompany a life-changing illness can be overwhelming. A psychological consult and depression screening could point Jen to counselling, appropriate anti-depressant medicine, or both that could offer her some relief.
If you have experienced a cardiac event and feel that you have symptoms of depression that have lasted more than six months, it’s time to get the help you need. You do not need to suffer through these emotions.
Do You Experience Any of the Following Symptoms of Depression?
- feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness
- difficulty focusing and remembering scheduled appointments
- anxiety about having another cardiac event
- fear of isolation or desire to isolate yourself
- inability to talk about your feelings with those close to you
Depression is common in heart patients. Some people begin to feel better shortly after cardiac treatment, while others experience complicated emotions for a long time.
Most often, depression related to life-changing illness is treated with success.
© 2010 Lisa Holland, PhD, LMFT
How Our Emotions and Thoughts Affect our Hearts - Dr. Lisa Holland’s blog
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