Patients who undergo major surgeries are typically prone to several mental health issues. This is due to a variety of reasons - the main one being that acute care episodes are sudden, traumatic, and life-changing events. Most acute care patients know that these major procedures happen to others all the time, but they never think that it will actually happen to them.
Naturally, acute care episodes are accompanied by major physical trauma and emotional shock. Acute care patients may question whether their lives will ever be normal again and if they will ever make a full recovery. Acute care situations can make even the most confident people lose their confidence as they become stripped of their ability to take care of themselves, provide for others, and perform even the simplest of actions, such as breathing. During this time, patients may go through a grieving period as they learn to cope with the loss of their former life - specifically, the ability to do the things in their past that they are no longer able to do.
On top of physical and emotional trauma, some acute care patients have to deal with the financial burden of their care as well. Surgery is expensive, and patients - even those with good health insurance - may be responsible for paying enormous amounts for their care. For patients who are the main breadwinners of their families, this creates an especially uncomfortable atmosphere at home. Not only are they no longer able to work and provide for their families, but they also bring on a costly bill to pay off. This dynamic can affect the overall happiness of the home which, in turn, can affect patients’ mental health.
Even after patients recover, they may live in constant fear and anxiety that their acute episode will reoccur. For example, patients who undergo heart attacks may think that subsequent episodes of anxiety are all signs of another heart attack. Cancer patients may also constantly be in fear that their cancer will come back. These physical concerns can easily turn into mental worries as patients blow seemingly small symptoms out of proportion in their minds.
In many cases, acute care patients have episodes that last longer than 3-4 weeks. These extended recovery times are typically when patients start becoming more frustrated, agitated, and depressed from being confined in their rooms and not being able to move. It mimics the analogy of being quarantined at home during COVID, but with the addition of being in pain, not having the ability to move, and being alone in losing the ability to live a normal life.
On a more technical side, the medication that patients take can also affect their mental well-being. Medication for acute care situations can be very powerful and essential to patients’ recoveries, but the downside is that they can alter the brain’s chemicals. When this happens, patients can face some extremely negative physical and mental side effects.
The speed and ability for patients to recover from acute care situations is very closely linked to their mental health. For example, many cardiac patients also have diabetes, a disease which can be exacerbated by stress. The subsequent sugar imbalance caused by the increase in stress levels can cause wounds to heal slower and give them a higher chance of infection. Research has shown that when patients train their brains properly to prepare for these acute care episodes, they end up spending less time in the hospital and require smaller amounts of pain and sleep medication.
For patients who undergo certain surgeries, it’s important for them to move their muscles and limbs for them to heal properly. However, patients suffering from mental health problems may spend most of their day in bed, and they may feel decreased motivation to move around - even if it’s beneficial for their recovery. Depending on the area of the surgery, other patients may not be able to move at all. Research has shown that these patients, such as ones who undergo knee surgery, have significantly higher rates of depression.
Depression can often lead to a decrease in willpower, on the patient side, to fight for their health. This willpower can be key to healing after certain procedures, so in these cases, the patient must have someone guiding them through their care journey and checking in on them to make sure that they’re caring for their well-being. Patients who undergo heart surgery are at a much higher risk for depression. In fact, this type of depression is so common (25% of cardiac patients become depressed) that it even has its own medical name - cardiac depression.
Doctors generally can be grouped into three perspectives in regards to mental health - the naysayers, the supporters, and the neutral ones.
The naysayers make up about 15% of doctors. Their main argument is that all the patient needs is their physical health, and they believe that as long as the patient’s surgery goes well and their organs are healthy, the patient is fine. However, some studies and statistics directly contradict their belief that physical and mental health do not affect each other.
The supporters also make up about 15% of doctors, and the remaining 70% falls somewhere in the middle. This middle group knows that mental health is important, but they don’t know what to do about it. They may not get around to thinking about it due to lack of time, and they may continuously push it off by saying that mental health isn’t the core focus of their job.
In response to the naysayers and the neutral group, DayToDay poses questions such as, “Why do you think people with the same demographics and general health have drastically different recovery times?” and “Why do you think specific patients are falling into depression?” DayToDay can prove that by caring about mental health, patient recovery times and rates can improve. On top of that, the most viewed content in the DayToDay app is the wellbeing content, which shows that mental health is very important to patients. DayToDay invites these groups to try DayToDay out for themselves and let the results do the talking.
DayToDay takes a preventative approach when it comes to dealing with patients’ mental health after major procedures. DayToDay understands that each patient has different needs, so they begin their relationship with patients by conducting an assessment on their mental state, their specific needs, and so on. This allows DayToDay to customize patients’ care plans depending on the patient and the procedure. Then, DayToDay provides patients with tools in the form of the DayToDay app, care coaches, and psychologists to help buffer against potential mental health problems.
The DayToDay app houses a variety of educational content on mental health conditions. Specifically, it includes content on how to create a positive mindset and combat the negativity bias, how to build resilience, how to recover from trauma, and more. This helps patients develop a more positive outlook on situations and prevents them from falling into depressive feelings.
In addition, the DayToDay app provides patients with helpful breathing exercises that they can use throughout the day. Breathing exercises slow down the fight or flight response that many patients have after major procedures, and it lowers cortisol levels and anxiety. This helps patients feel more relaxed, present, and in-control.
DayToDay care coaches are monumental in patients’ mental health journeys. Care coaches are great listening ears for patients who often don’t have anyone else to talk to about these specific issues. They are available to speak with patients about anything - from their hope and dreams, to their struggles, and so on. Because sleep is an essential part of the healing process, care coaches also help patients with their sleep by proposing sleep rituals and sleep hygiene techniques.
Care coaches also work with patients to set long-term, intrinsic goals to motivate their recovery, which are often more effective in enacting actual behavior change. Instead of setting goals such as ‘I want to walk better,’ care coaches help patients set goals such as ‘I want to attend my grandchild’s 12th birthday.’
DayToDay also provides patients with psychologists who offer a deeper level of counselling and support. The psychologist fills in all the gaps between the care coaches and the DayToDay app so that the patient has a full support team behind them.
With this comprehensive cycle of care, DayToDay is able to offset the consequences of neglecting mental health issues and, in many cases, prevent mental health issues from ever developing. As mental health issues become more and more prevalent, doctors and hospitals need to adapt their approach to account for them. They may not view mental health as their focus or priority, but it has a direct impact on patients’ recoveries.