Low mood and depression after stroke

Understanding that your symptoms are due to depression and that it is a common effect of stroke may help you to find and accept the help and support you need.

Depression

It’s natural to feel down or sad after a stroke. But depression is when feelings of hopelessness and sadness don’t go away. They last for weeks or even months, and if they do go away they may come back. Because of this, they can begin to affect your sleep, appetite, daily activities and interest in life.

This can also make it harder to feel motivated about your therapy or treatments, which can affect your recovery. Depression can appear at any point, perhaps months or even years down the line. But if you know the signs and understand that the way you’re feeling may be down to depression, it can help you realise that you need some support.

Severe depression is very serious, it can make you feel that you want to give up on life and you may think about harming or killing yourself. If you’ve had feelings like this, you need to speak to your GP straight away and get some support.

What can I do about depression?

Keep busy

Although you may not feel like doing anything, being active can help you feel more positive. So however difficult it seems, at least try to give your rehabilitation exercises a go. You may find them easier than you think.

Be kind to yourself

Write down the compliments that people give you and the achievements you make so that you can go back and remind yourself of them when you’re feeling down. And think about your appearance – looking good makes us all feel a little better. So treat yourself to a haircut or a manicure. If you can’t get to a salon yourself, find someone who can come out to your house.

Eat well and avoid caffeine and alcohol

If you’re not eating much or you’re comforting yourself by eating junk food all the time, then it’s going to make you feel tired and run down. So try to eat regular meals with lots of fruit, vegetables and fish. Reduce alcohol and caffeine, as they can alter your mood and affect your sleep.

Common signs of depression

Depression affects people in different ways, but these are some of the more common signs:

  • Feeling sad or down in the dumps.

  • Feeling worthless, helpless or guilty.

  • Feeling hopeless or desperate.

  • Feeling anxious or worrying a lot.

  • Losing confidence.

  • Losing interest in things you used to enjoy.

  • Lacking energy or motivation.

  • Not going out or avoiding other people.

  • Finding it difficult to concentrate or make decisions.

  • Having problems sleeping or sleeping too much.

  • Losing your appetite or eating too much.

  • Losing interest in sex.

What can I do about the way I feel?

1. Get some help

There’s a lot to cope with when you’ve had a stroke, so don’t be afraid to ask for some help. If you’re worried about the way you’re feeling, or you think you may be experiencing some of the problems we’ve described, then you need to speak to your GP about it. They will be able to tell you about the support that’s available.

Emotional problems are often missed by doctors and sometimes it can be difficult to get them taken seriously. However, you need to trust that you know yourself better than they do, so don’t be afraid to keep asking to get the support you need. If you don’t think you’re getting the right support from your GP or stroke team, then contact our Stroke Helpline.

2. Talk to someone about it

Talking about the way you’re feeling with someone who understands can really help. You may want to do this with a counsellor or therapist, or it could be a family member or friend – whoever you feel most comfortable talking to. Many people also find support groups helpful, because you can talk about your problems with people who are going through the same thing.

3. Stay informed

A stroke can make you feel low or anxious. But talking to the right people and finding answers to your questions will help you feel more in control. So talk to your GP about what they think caused your stroke and what you can do to reduce your risk of it happening again. Don’t be afraid to ask, even if it’s weeks or months later. It’s important that you understand what’s happened to you and why.

If you’re worried about not being able to go back to work, speak to your employer or Jobcentre Plus about how you can be helped back into the workplace. If you have an occupational therapist, they could offer some advice and support. Finding out what financial support you can get will also help to ease your fears. Speak to your social worker if you have one, or call our Stroke Helpline on 0303 3033 100.

4. Take it easy on yourself

Many people find that they have to learn what’s ‘normal’ for them again after they’ve had a stroke. This means listening to both your body and your brain and not expecting yourself to do too much, at least not to begin with.

There’s no need to be embarrassed about the way you’re feeling – there’s a lot to cope with. Be honest about the problems you’re having. Often people just want to know how they can help, so they’ll appreciate it if you tell them.

5. Keep going

Many people feel that they lose their sense of purpose after a stroke. This can really affect your confidence and make you feel down. That’s why it’s important to stay connected to the people and things in your life as much as possible.

This can be hard, as you may not be able to do everything that you did before. But there will be things that you can do, so focus on these. Set yourself small goals to work towards, one step at a time. Keep track of the progress you make, as it can be easy to forget, especially if things don’t happen as quickly as you’d like.

6. Be as active as you can

When you’re active your body releases chemicals into your brain that make you feel happier. Because of this, exercise has been proven to help with a number of emotional problems.

It doesn’t have to be running or swimming, even a short walk or a bit of gardening can have a positive effect. If you can’t get up and about, practising physiotherapy exercises will get you active, or try some chair-based exercises.

7. Try relaxation

Relaxation can help you cope when your emotions start to feel overwhelming. Research has shown that relaxation can be particularly helpful in treating anxiety after stroke. There are techniques you can learn to help you relax. These usually focus on breathing or releasing tension from your muscles. Many people find that mindfulness (a type of meditation) or other forms of meditation help them too.

8. Get it out

Writing things down can help you deal with negative thoughts and feelings. Many people find that keeping a journal helps them – it doesn’t have to be written, you could keep a video journal instead. Things like art, music, photography or poetry can give you a way of expressing your feelings as well.

Information

Other resources

Stroke Association
Helpline: 0303 3033 100
Email: helpline@stroke.org.uk
Contact us for information about stroke, emotional support and details of local services and support groups.

British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP)
Phone: 01455 883 316
Publishes the Counselling & Psychotherapy Resources Directory. This lists organisations, counsellors and psychotherapists in the UK. Some counsellors operate a sliding scale of charges according to income.

British Psychological Society (BPS)
Phone: 0116 254 9568
Email: info@bps.org.uk

Carers UK
Phone: 0808 808 7777 or contact form
Provides information and support to carers.

Counselling directory
Website listing recognised and qualified counsellors and psychotherapists with a postcode search facility.

MIND
Phone: 0300 123 3393
Email: info@mind.org.uk
Mind is a national mental health charity offering a range of publications and information on local services and support groups.

Support in MIND Scotland
Phone: 0300 323 1545
Email: info@supportinmindscotland.org.uk
Supports people with mental health problems in Scotland, offers information, support and a drop-in resource centre.

UK Council for Psychotherapy (UKCP)
Phone: 020 70149955
Email: info@ukcp.org.uk
The UK Council for Psychotherapy is the leading organisation for psychotherapists and psychotherapeutic counsellors in the UK.

Apps from MyTherappy
NHS approved and recommended stroke apps for survivors and carers ranging from communication, eating and drinking, healthy lifestyle, vision and more.

Disclaimer: The Stroke Association provides the details of other organisations for information only. Inclusion on My Stroke Guide does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement.