Coping with Post-Cosmetic Surgery Depression
For many patients, cosmetic surgery is something they’ve looked forward to for years. Whether they’re removing a much-despised bump in the nose, want larger breasts, or are ready for a full facelift, cosmetic procedures offer patients hope that they can finally look on the outside the way they feel on the inside. But many patients are surprised when, following their procedure, they are left feeling hopeless and depressed. Post-surgical depression is real, and it happens more often than you might think. Learn the triggers of this type of depression, the warning signs to look for following your procedure, and what to do if you think you are experiencing post-surgical depression.
While nobody knows exactly what causes post-surgical depression, there are many triggers. Anything from anesthesia to unrealistic expectations to isolation or lack of support network can all be huge contributors to a patient feeling depressed following what should be a time of renewed hope. Worse yet, many people are ashamed to come forward and discuss their feelings because of the stigma associated with depression- and the shame they feel for experiencing depression following an elective surgery.
Before we get into what to look for, though, there are some depression risk indicators patients should be aware of prior to their surgery. If you fall into any of these categories, be honest with yourself and with your surgeon. Often, discussing these risks ahead of time can help alleviate them- or at least allow you and your doctor to form a plan in case you do begin to experience signs of depression following your surgery.
-If you have unrealistic expectations for your surgical results, you may be headed for disappointment if the procedure doesn’t live up to your expectations. Your surgeon will do his or her best to explain the possible side effects and give you a realistic idea of what to expect - but it is understandably difficult for patients to imagine what they’ll see in the mirror following their surgery. Another issue some patients have following surgery is that the healing process can often take much longer than expected. Depending on the procedure, you may not be able to see your final results for a year or longer. This is especially true with rhinoplasties because the swelling of the nose takes a very long time to go down. Even then it is a gradual process, so patients may not realize it has reduced in size for months- or that it still needs, even more, time to progess.
-If you are already experiencing depression, signs of depression, or have experienced depression in the past, you are at a high risk of post-surgical depression, too. Let your doctor know about your history with this illness.
- If you are going into your procedure facing opposition from family or friends, it may make recovering from cosmetic surgery harder than it should be. Patients feeling resentment from family members or partners may feel guilty or sad. They may also feel afraid to ask for help when in physical pain, which is extremely isolating. If you do not have the support of your family heading into surgery, speak to your surgeon. There are ways to get your family on board with your procedure- sometimes having them speak with your surgeon before the operation can make a big difference. Often partners are afraid the face they fell in love with will change, or the newly empowered patient may discard them. It is important to remember that it is their anxiety- not yours. If a loved one’s anxiety about your procedure is causing a serious strain on your relationship and self-esteem, it may be worth it to seek counseling together.
Now that you know the triggers for postop-depression, here’s what to look for after your procedure:
-Change of appetite: Sometimes painkillers and antibiotics prescribed following surgery can make you nauseous, so a lack of appetite while taking these medications is not cause for alarm. If the nausea is problematic, your surgeon can prescribe an anti-nausea medication to take with your painkiller, so don’t hesitate to call the doctor’s office or after hours’ nurse line to request this. On the other hand, if you are no longer taking medication following your surgery and still have no appetite or you seem to be eating when you are not hungry, give the practice a call as well, as this could be a red flag for depression.
-Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and despair: Much like with your appetite, negative feelings can also be attributed to medications you take during and after the surgery. Often patients who have undergone anesthesia report feeling depressed afterward, and some painkillers are considered ‘depressants,’ and could be responsible for these feelings. Some prescription sleep aids or anti-anxiety medications fall into the depressant category, too- which is why it is important to tell your surgeon all the medications you are taking prior to your surgery. This way, if there are any that interact negatively with your post-op prescriptions, we can avoid any dangerous side effects. This is also a great case for telling your doctor about your history with depression, if applicable. If there are medications that may increase your risk of depression, your surgeon may substitute them for something with a lower risk.
-Loss of energy or excessive fatigue: It is absolutely normal to feel tired and groggy in the days immediately following your surgery- especially if you are taking painkillers. But if these feelings continue for longer than two weeks’ post-op, speak to your doctor as soon as possible.
-Dramatic mood swings: You know your temperament better than anyone. If you are normally not quick to react or hot tempered and you find yourself snapping at everyone around you post-op, you could be suffering from depression. Again, these emotions could be due to residual anesthesia or prescription pain medication, but if the irritability or sadness lasts beyond the healing process, speak to your doctor immediately.
It is important to note that many of these are just normal side effects from the surgery and medications you are taking during the healing process, however, if these problems persist after you have stopped taking medication, speak to your surgeon as soon as possible. Most cases of post-operative depression go away on their own within six months of the surgical procedure; however, depression can often hamper the healing process. It can also put you at a higher risk for serious issues like eating disorders and suicide- so please don’t try to ‘get through this’ alone. There is help out there, and there are resources to help you get back to feeling like yourself again.