Recognizing Depression

“Are Mom’s feelings of sadness, loss, and anger normal? How do I know if this is part of the healing process and not a problem as a result of the stroke?”

The loss of abilities after a stroke can lead survivors into a time of sadness and despair. The entire family is feeling the effects of the stroke during this time of change. The survivor is especially aware of what changes have occurred within them, but may not understand why. The process of recovery is slow and unpredictable.

This unpredictability drains the faith and hope out of both the survivors and their families. It is perfectly normal for the family and the survivor to have these feelings. Yet when these feelings are interrupting recovery or family life, it is time to question exactly what is happening with the person. It is important to note that depression is a clinical and treatable problem. Caregivers need only to question the changes in their loved one in order to get help.

African-Americans are less likely to question the doctor about emotional changes in their loved ones. Our culture certainly considers the emotional aspects of recovery important, but it is usually seen as a very personal and private issue. For that reason alone, family members are usually very hesitant to question a loved one about their mood changes. African-Americans see changes in mood as a part of the recovery process, and that once that person is better their mood will improve. But what do you do if you suspect the loved one will not get better?

In many cases, African-Americans will try to deal with the mood changes within the family rather than asking for outside help. There is also an inherent distrust of doctors among the African-American community. The reasons for the distrust do not matter, only that the issue exists. It is up to the caregivers and families to open up lines of communication between doctor and patient. This starts with families and caregivers questioning the mood and emotional changes in their loved ones and reporting them. It doesn’t matter what is reported as long as you have questions about the behavior.

Some common signs of depression include:

  • Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities that were once enjoyed, including sex
  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions
  • Insomnia, early-morning awakening or oversleeping
  • Appetitie and/or changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide or suicide attempts
  • Restlessness, irritability

If five or more of these symptoms are present every day for at least two weeks and interfere with routine daily activities such as work, self-care, child care, or social life, a doctor should be told and an evaluation for depression should be done. These types of comments, expressions, or actions should be taken seriously. There are crisis lines for the caregiver to contact for help in these situations.