The Mental Health and Heart Disease Connection

Imagine that you’ve just had a heart attack. You’re in recovery, shaken up, and you feel like your entire world has changed in an instant. You feel differently about yourself, your loved ones, about life in general.

In other words, heart disease has rocked your world: facing your own mortality can have that effect. Your family tells you it’s normal to feel depressed after an illness or heart attack, and your doctor says it could be a side effect of the medication. All you know is that you can’t seem to shake the feeling. Could it be depression?

“Immediately after a heart attack, it can be difficult to determine what’s happening — whether [a depressed mood] is part of the normal healing process, or if it’s truly depression,” says Sharonne N. Hayes, M.D., Director of the Women’s Heart Clinic at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN. “A total of five symptoms have to be present for two weeks to make a diagnosis.” These symptoms include:

  • Depressed mood
  • Inability to enjoy usual activities
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Appetite changes – eating too little or too much, including changes in weight
  • Behavior changes– either agitated or sluggish
  • Decreased energy (fatigue)
  • Sense of worthlessness or guilt
  • Difficulty with concentration, indecisive
  • Thoughts of suicide or death

So what can you do to reduce your risk?