Slowed speech, memory loss, paralysis—these are some of the symptoms and side effects most commonly associated with a stroke. But another debilitating aftereffect is often overlooked: depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, up to 27 percent of stroke survivors will experience major depression in the two months following a stroke. This is a special concern for African Americans, who are already susceptible to higher rates of depression and, as the National Stroke Association (NSA) reports, more likely to have a stroke than any other racial group. The rate of first strokes in African Americans, for example, is almost twice that of white people.
Experts debate whether post-depression stroke springs from the brain injury itself or from its resulting social and psychological complications (e.g. feelings of stigma surrounding the stroke, or anxiety and self-consciousness over the physical effects). However, most researchers agree that post-stroke depression is a serious concern that should be acknowledged and treated.
The depression’s impact can range from mild to severe. While some people may experience general feelings of sadness related to the fear, anger, anxiety and frustration they feel following a stroke, others may find themselves changing their eating patterns or having suicidal thoughts. A recent Australian study found that post-stroke depression prevented almost as many people from returning to work as did physical complications.
Many African Americans who suffer from depression go undiagnosed and don’t get the help they need and deserve. Misconceptions that depression is not a “real” medical illness, along with stigma, often lead to people suffering in silence. Be aware of common signs of depression: crying for no apparent reason, difficulty sleeping, feelings of worthlessness and loss of interest in daily activities. Though some feelings of sadness are normal post-stroke, severe changes to your moods and lifestyle should be discussed with your doctor and may need to be treated with counseling, support from friends and family, or antidepressant medications.
What’s the best way to prevent post-depression stroke? Prevent the stroke in the first place. That might sound like a difficult task; however, there are many ways to lower your risk. Check out these tips:
- Lower your weight and blood pressure. High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for stroke, and according to the NSA, 1 in three African Americans has high blood pressure. Lifestyle changes, such as adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise, can help lower your risk of high blood pressure, as well as lower your risk of obesity and diabetes—both of which also up your stroke risk.
- Stop smoking—NOW. The U.S. Surgeon General has been quoted as saying that “smoking cessation represents the single most important step that smokers can take to enhance the length and quality of their lives.” Smoking can double your risk of a stroke. Smokefree.gov offers tips and information about how to quit smoking; or call 1.877.44U.QUIT to reach a smoking cessation counselor from the National Cancer Institute.
- Eat better. While it’s important to eat healthfully overall, some foods are touted for their stroke-risk-reducing qualities. For example, past research has found that phytochemicals in apples and almonds—plant chemicals that may protect against stroke and other diseases—can help drop your risk. Click here to learn more about foods that can help lower your risk of a stroke.
For more information on strokes, visit the American Stroke Association’s website.
To read more about post-stroke depression, click here.