It is almost easy to think that after someone has had a heart attack and come out of hospital, that they will be filled with immense relief and be really happy that they not only survived, but they are now home. Yet for many people who have had this experience, the immediate period after they have been discharged from hospital is a time of anxiety, depression and fear about what the future holds.
Lack of Medical Support
In hospital there is a feeling of security, a sense that if anything happens, medical assistance is only a few seconds away. Upon discharge this security blanket is removed and there can be a real concern that something may go wrong and medical help is not at hand.
Psychological Effects of a Heart Attack
Having a heart attack also has psychological effects. In a sense the whole experience is a brush with mortality, an experience that could have been fatal. OK it wasn’t fatal this time, but many attack survivors relate that there is a sense that the ‘next one’ could be and you never know if or when there will be a ‘next one’. This can lead to anxiety and sometimes depression as well. Sometimes anxiety is a front for depression and so instead of acknowledging that we are actually feeling depressed, instead we feel anxious. So to some extent to feel anxiety and depression after a heart attack is normal; it is a response to a near fatal experience.
There are no absolute statistics available for how many people who have had a heart attack will develop anxiety and/or depression after their attack, but it is estimated that up to 45% of people who have had an attack may develop either anxiety or depression or both. However, many others may have developed these conditions, but be reluctant to admit to these feelings. Most heart attack survivors are male and they often do not like to admitting that they feel anxious or depressed! So in reality there are probably many more people who feel very anxious and depressed after they have had a heart attack.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
People who have had a heart attack can actually experience such anxiety and depression that they develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Estimates vary as to how many survivors actually develop PTSD, but the general view is that between 15 and 25% of survivors could be viewed as having PTSD.
The difficulty is that the survivor is always on the alert in case another heart attack is imminent. Sufferers also take action to stop themselves having another attack, so they stop doing anything that is likely to make the heart beat faster, such as making love, being active or doing exercise. This in turn makes the heart condition difficult to improve; after all if the heart is not exercised, then it will become sluggish.
Be Aware if You Know Someone Who Has Had a Heart Attack
If you know someone who has been through this experience, then be aware that they may well be experiencing anxiety and or depression and be patient and understanding, so that you can try to help them through what can be a very difficult time. It isn’t easy and it does take time, but at least being aware of how that person may be feeling can make it easier for you all to deal with!