Depression after surgery? How to cope

Depression after surgery – now what?

Depression after surgery can feel like fatigue and feelings of despair.
Post-surgical depression after surgery can feel like fatigue and feelings of despair.

So you finally arrive in Thailand, you’ve had your video call, you’ve read the surgery guide, you’ve watched everyone’s stories on the forum and are feeling pretty confident in the surgeon’s ability. Even the day after surgery, the surgery has been a great success, you’re feeling good, pretty sore… yet still good? You’re thinking this surgery thing is easy. But then, a couple of day’s later, you’re feeling down – even regretting what you’re doing altogether. Why the heck am I in Thailand? No one understands what I’m going through – you mumble in your head and stare mindlessly into the forum.

Welcome to post-surgery blues – you’re not alone. About 70% of our clients experience this. I know, I know – you thought it wouldn’t happen to you, as you haven’t been anxious at all and you’ve been SO prepared.

So why does this happen?

You may be surprised to learn that having surgery to improve your looks can have emotional aftermath. Too many prospective plastic surgery patients fail to consider the psychological aspects of cosmetic surgery.

There are positive emotional effects, of course, but most people tend to forget about the possible psychological ramifications of undergoing major surgery to improve one’s looks. The phenomenon of post-op depression is real, but its effects can be minimised if patients are prepared and follow our advice.

Post-Surgical Depression
The incidence of post-surgical depression is much higher than most people realise and often gets glossed over in the “risks and complications of surgery”.

Let’s examine some of the significant contributors to post-surgical depression, most of which are common to any type of surgery:

Effects of General Anesthesia
Did you know that traces of the chemicals used to “put you under” in general anaesthesia can remain in your body tissues, affecting you both physically and emotionally, for up to three weeks? These residual effects can include lethargy and depression, and even bouts of unexplained weepiness or despair. Incidences of these effects seem to increase in proportion to the age of the patient.

Pain Medications
Post-surgical pain management usually requires at least a brief period of the patient being on prescription narcotic painkillers. Most narcotic painkillers are in a class of drugs considered depressants. This does not necessarily mean that they will make you depressed.

In layman’s terms, it just means that they tend to slow everything down, much like alcohol, but on a larger scale. Just as people have different emotional reactions to being intoxicated after a few drinks, they also have different responses to being on pain medication. Sometimes, these reactions are similar to (and compounded by) those related to the residual effects of general anaesthesia, as listed in the paragraph above.

Physical Restrictions Inherent to Recovery
Let’s face it: Almost nobody enjoys being stuck in bed, depending on others, particularly in Thailand where there is a language barrier* for help with basic tasks, being forced to abandon our usual routines and take time out for healing. Feelings of restlessness, boredom, helplessness, and even uselessness are quite common. Besides, the lack of physical activity usually means a short supply of endorphins, which is never a good thing, mood-wise.

Bruised and Battered
In a nutshell, when you look and feel terrible physically, you’re likely to feel terrible emotionally as well. Imagine lying in bed in pain, doped up on medication which makes you feel slightly nauseous… Then you go to the mirror to sneak a peek. Your face is bruised and swollen, sporting visible stitches reminiscent of Dr Frankenstein’s monster. It hardly sounds like a recipe for bliss, does it?

What are the symptoms?
Surgery makes you extremely vulnerable and can trigger an array of strong emotions. Surgery is an invasion of a person’s body, which can be quite traumatising, whether clients realise it or not.

Symptoms of depression include:

  • fatigue
  • distrusting Azurite or your companion
  • difficulty making decisions
  • eating much more or less than normal
  • sleeping much more or less than normal
  • feeling a loss of interest in regular activities
  • feelings of anxiety, stress, irritability, or aggression
  • fidgeting or restlessness
  • feelings of despair or hopelessness with no cause
  • thoughts of harming oneself or others

Why is it important to do something about it?

Studies show depression after surgery and anxiety can actually disrupt physical healing, making it slower and more difficult, according to a 2017 study published by the British Journal of Surgery.

Who’s at risk?

Although anyone can experience post-op depression, those who have a history of mental illness are at the highest risk for developing depression after surgery.

Steps to Combat Post-Op Depression

Although Azurite is always on call to talk things through with you, and we have onsite staff available. It’s still best to make sure you have a reliable support system in place. Azurite ensures our clients can easily bring a companion by including the costs of accommodation for your companion for free. Spouses, siblings, parents, adult children, and friends can be of invaluable help to you in your recovery. If a loved one has had any kind of plastic surgery before, that’s all the better. Talk out your anxieties and feelings with them or us if this isn’t an option.

  • Eat as well as possible. For the first day or two, you probably won’t have much of an appetite. When you do feel ready to eat, do yourself a favour and drink protein drinks and lots of fresh juice (ideally green juices) and eat the freshest, most nutritious food you can find to help your body heal. (Not only will this accelerate the healing process, but it will also do a world of good for your mental and emotional state as well.) Also, drink plenty of water and get lots of rest. It’s also best to the supplements recommended in our surgery guide like zinc, B complex and B6 to help with your nerves. Magnesium is also suitable for anxiety if you’re prone to it.
  • Have a plan. Set up your “recovery station” before you go in for the surgery. At the very least, you should have all these things within easy reach: a good book you can get lost in and magazines, healthy snack food, a pitcher of cool water, your phone and an adaptor to charge your laptop or phone.
  • Follow your surgeon’s and Azurite’s instructions. Be sure to take all medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor, and refrain from strenuous activity for as long as we advise.
  • Give yourself a break. Don’t try to be a super-hero. This is the time when your loved ones are supposed to be taking care of you, not the other way around. Don’t go back to work before you’re ready. If your surgeon says that you can go back in two days, take four days off.
  • Be patient with the healing process. Don’t make judgments on the outcome while you’re still swollen, bruised, and stitched up.
  • Avoid alcohol for at least three weeks. Check with your surgeon for specific recommendations.
  • Be mindful – everything worth it in life generally comes with some pain. Think about that time you saved for your home, gave birth, got your first big job, or worked out to lose weight. It’s all difficult in the beginning, but the outcome usually outweighs the negative emotions you experienced.
  • When in doubt, call or message us. This is our bread and butter, and we deal with it every day. We understand what you’re going through and can help talk you through it. Our surgeon may also decide to change your medication if he believes that your current prescription is contributing to any adverse emotional issues you are experiencing.

One Comment

  1. trina

    well done Alessandra.

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