John Fetterman’s depression mirrors the experience of stroke survivors

  • Senator John Fetterman checked in with Walter Reed on Wednesday for treatment for depression.
  • Fetterman is recovering from a stroke he suffered last May.
  • About 1 in 3 stroke survivors will experience post-stroke depression in the year after the stroke.

Senator John Fetterman checked into Walter Reed Hospital Wednesday night to be treated for clinical depression, his office said Thursday.

The Pennsylvania Democrat’s diagnosis of depression comes as Fetterman continues to recover from a May 2022 stroke that affected his ability to speak smoothly and impaired his auditory processing skills. Stroke experts say it’s very likely that stroke and clinical depression are linked and that patients suffering from both conditions are at risk for other problems.

Since his stroke, Fetterman has fought a hard-fought race to secure a Senate seat against Republican opponent Dr. Mehmet Oz. Adam Gentleson, Fetterman’s chief of staff, told the New York Times that Fetterman was “forced to do as much as possible” and quickly return to campaigning rather than taking time to recover.

About a month into his job, a critical time for freshman senators adjusting to life on Capitol Hill, Fetterman was hospitalized after becoming “dizzy” during a Feb. 8 Senate Democrat retreat. had felt. Two days later he was discharged from the hospital.

While Fetterman hasn’t disclosed whether his previous stroke is related to his diagnosis of depression, doctors say his experience is well known among stroke survivors.

Depression is common in stroke victims and can be dangerous

Post-stroke depression (PSD) is common, with studies estimating that it affects about one in three people in the year following their stroke. This rate is at least three times higher than the rate of depression in the general population.

dr Bruce Ovbiagele, a professor of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, told Insider that it’s “very likely” that Fetterman’s depression diagnosis “was related to the stroke.”

The reason stroke survivors are at increased risk of depression is complex and may involve both biological and social changes that occur after stroke. Some stroke survivors can experience permanent damage to their brain cells associated with emotions. Others may experience depression in response to the “devastating effects of stroke” on their ability to live life the way they used to, Ovbiagele said.

“Some providers actually have tools in their offices to assess depression after a stroke,” Ovbiagele said, “in case there is evidence of depression.”

It can be difficult for family members and medical professionals alike to tell the difference between depression and the effects of a stroke, since both disorders can affect problems such as memory function and shallow affect. According to the American Stroke Association, post-stroke depression is also “largely unrecognized, underdiagnosed, and undertreated.”

“Sometimes it’s a bit obscure: is this the stroke itself, or are they actually depressed?” said Ovbiagele.

John Fetterman

Fetterman is 53 years old.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Post-stroke depression is also dangerous: It’s associated with more deaths in stroke victims, and that’s largely because “people who are depressed often don’t follow their prescribed medical treatment,” Ovbiagele said.

They may be less likely to take medications that could prevent another stroke, or be less likely to make important lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of another stroke. Research suggests that people who experience a more severe stroke, those with a history of depression, and those with existing cognitive impairment are at increased risk of developing PSD after a stroke.

Patients with post-stroke depression may experience many of the same problems encountered by others with a diagnosis of depression, including trouble sleeping, fatigue, trouble concentrating, feeling worthless or suicidal, and restless, involuntary movements known as psychomotor agitation.

Both antidepressants and brief psychosocial interventions have been shown to help stroke survivors with depression.

“The key is to pick it up at all,” said Ovbiagele.

If you or someone you know is depressed or have had thoughts about harming or killing themselves, get help. In the US, call or text 988 to reach them the suicide and crisis lifeline, which offers 24/7 free, confidential support for people in need, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to support in prevention and crisis situations. You can also get help from them crisis text line – just send “HOME” to 741741 International Association for Suicide Prevention provides resources for those outside the US.

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