Uncertainty and Depression After a Stroke

Depression among stroke survivors more likely if uncertain of their illness

(RxWiki News) Depression is a common symptom among people who have strokes. Understanding their condition and what to expect might help with this depression.

A very small study has found stroke survivors are more likely to be depressed the less they understand their condition — especially if they're men.

"Seek help for depression."

The study, led by Michael J. McCarthy, PhD, of the University of Cincinnati College of Health Sciences School of Social Work, involved 36 patients who had had a stroke within the past the three years.

The group included 16 women and 20 men. The researchers assessed these individuals' ability to do daily activities, like bathing and cutting food with a knife and fork.

They also measured their symptoms of depression and the degree of "health ambiguity" or "uncertainty" they felt about their condition.

To determine how confidently the individuals understood their condition, the researchers asked how much they agreed or disagreed with statements like "I don't know what's wrong with me" or "I have a lot of questions without answers."

The more uncertain the individuals were about their illness, the more likely they were to be depressed. This correlation was stronger in the men in this study.

However, the small size of the study makes it difficult to determine whether this link is true among larger groups of male and female stroke survivors.

Another weakness of the study was that some of the individuals had their strokes much more recently than others. The participants therefore were probably at different stages in their recovery from their strokes.

However, about a third of all stroke survivors experience depression. It's therefore helpful to know, even from a small study, what might make that depression worse or more likely.

If uncertainty about your condition is influencing your mental health after a stroke, talking to your doctor may help answer questions and relieve some of that stress.

“These findings suggest that reducing health ambiguity through proactive communication with patients and family members may be an effective approach for reducing survivor distress and, ultimately, for improving rehabilitation outcomes," Dr. McCarthy said.

He said it's possible that the men experienced a greater degree of depression from uncertainty because they were more used to being in control of their health or they saw the stroke as a loss of power.

The study was published September 12 in the Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Information regarding funding was unavailable, but the authors declared no disclosures.

Review Date: 
September 22, 2012