Anxiety and Stress understanding
Unfortunately in life it is far too easy to think that after someone has had a heart attack and come out of hospital, they come home immensely relieved, full of joy that they are still alive and everything will be just wonderful!
Yet for a great many people after a heart attack the time after discharge is a not a time of joy but instead it is a time of anxiety, stress, perhaps even depression and fear about the future and what the future holds.
Suddenly You Are On Your Own
In hospital people who have had heart attacks relay that they have a feeling of security, knowing that medical assistance is only a few seconds away. The NHS may not be fabulous, but at least patients know that help will come. When discharged from hospital this security blanket is removed. So you know that if anything goes wrong at home, there is no medical expertise there (unless you happen to live with a cardiologist).
Psychological Effects of a Heart Attack
For most people, having a heart attack will have some kind of psychological effect or impact. A heart attack is a brush with mortality, and let’s be honest, it could have been fatal. Obviously it wasn’t fatal this time, but many heart attack survivors indicate there is a sense that the 'next one' could indeed be fatal. They feel that they never know if or when there will be a 'next one'. This worry can breed in your mind and then lead to anxiety or depression, or perhaps both. Anxiety can be a front for depression. The anxiety acts as a mask. But this is all very normal; it is an appropriate response to a near fatal experience.
There are no absolute statistics to be had as to how many heart attack survivors go on to develop anxiety and/or depression after they are discharged from hospital, but it is estimated that up to 45% may develop anxiety or depression or very often, both.
However, it is possible that others may have these conditions, but they are reluctant to admit that they feel this way. Most heart attack survivors are male (although the number of female heart attack victims is increasing) and most men struggle to admit that they are anxious or depressed! Thus it is very likely that there are more people who feel anxious and depressed after they have experienced a heart attack.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Heart attack survivors may actually experience anxiety and depression to such an extent that they develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Estimates vary as to how many survivors will develop PTSD, but it could be as many as 34%. Obviously not everyone will develop PTSD to the same extent and some people will be more adversely affected than others.
Many survivors feel that they are always on the alert in case of another heart attack. Often they will take action to avoid doing anything that puts them at risk, this could be taking exercise or being active. But the difficulty is that if someone avoids exercise and being active this in turn makes the heart less likely to improve. The heart is a muscle and needs to be exercised: if it isn’t exercised then it will become sluggish.
How To Help
If you know someone who has survived after a heart attack, then you should at least be aware that they may well be experiencing anxiety and or depression. This requires a little patience and a lot of understanding, so that you can try to help them through what can be a very difficult and very isolating time. The survivor may be feeling very isolated and as if no one cares or understands, so being aware of how that person may be feeling can make life a lot easier for the survivor and for their loved ones as well!