Reactive Depression: Depression after Injury or Illness

•    People sometimes develop Reactive Depression – Depression caused by a particular negative event or experience.

•    Patients who have experienced a major injury or illness often experience Reactive Depression as they struggle with the emotional impact of their injury or illness.

•    Counselling with a professional counsellor or psychologist can help you overcome depression and discover a new way to live after injury or sickness.
There are many reasons why a person may become depressed. Often, depression appears ‘out of the blue’ and may be the result of a chemical imbalance in the brain. At other times, depression may be associated with grief or trauma or some other, less significant, negative experience.

People who have gone through a major injury or illness are commonly susceptible to post-injury depression, especially if that injury or illness has permanently changed the way they live their lives.

This is a form of Reactive Depression. Reactive Depression, as the name suggests, is depression that occurs as a result of some event, occurrence or experience.

A number of things happen when a person experiences a major illness or injury. First, they may go through a high level of anxiety as the medical system takes time to determine the nature and cause of their illness or the impact of their injury. This will likely involve multiple medical tests, doctors visits and possibly hospitalisation. This process can cause a high degree of stress, uncertainty and fear of the unknown.

Once an illness is properly diagnosed, the patient enters a time of transition as they deal with the impact of their illness or injury. They may no longer be able to work, or not in the same way. They may need to make physical adjustments to their home or the way they get around. They may not be physically or cognitively able to engage in activities or hobbies they’ve always loved. Medication will need to be determined and side-effects addressed. They may have lost a degree of independence and need to be more reliant on others.

All of these changes obviously impact on a patient’s sense of self.  A person’s capacity to cope with these changes varies and it is not uncommon for a person to fall into reactive depression as a result of their illness or injury. This is okay. A degree of reactive depression may be expected in this sort of situation, and it is important to acknowledge this. Indeed, this acceptance is the beginning of the healing process.

How Does Counselling Help with Depression After Injury?

A qualified counsellor or psychologist can assist you to recover from reactive depression and support you through the emotional impact of your illness or injury.

A counsellor’s approach to dealing with reactive depression will vary, but may include:

-    addressing the anxiety and fear caused by the underlying illness or injury
-    re-considering unhelpful thinking patterns
-    redefining one’s belief systems around how we expect our lives to be
-    indentifying practical steps towards recovery
-    strengthening emotional resilience
-    mapping stages of recovery to provide hope
-    offering emotional support and a ‘listening ear’.

Martina’s Story

Martina was a healthy and active 62 year old – she loved her weekly zumba class, enjoyed taking walks with her husband, and often took her grandkids to the park. So it was a great shock, both to her and her family, when she suffered a massive and unexpected stroke.

Initially the effects of the stroke were severe. Martina was unable to use the left side of her body. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t drive, she couldn’t even go to the toilet without assistance - her damaged body left her stricken with fear and her reliance on her husband and children made her feel embarrassed and awkward.

Fortunately, feeling returned to the left side of her body fairly quickly, and after about 2 weeks of intense physiotherapy, she was able to take back some basic remnants of her independence and privacy. But the initial experience had shattered her emotionally – she had never seen herself as weak, or old, and she couldn’t comprehend or adjust to this new vision of herself. 

In addition, she continued to experience a degree of ongoing dizziness that made it difficult for her to undertake many of the activities she had enjoyed prior to her stroke. So in addition to feeling angry and somewhat ashamed about her predicament, Martina also felt bored, lonely and sad because she could no longer do so many of the things she loved doing. Martina was also scared – scared of how she would cope, scared of missing out, scared of having a stroke again.

Martina cried a great deal after her return from hospital, and ate very little. Then one day she just stopped getting out of bed – she didn’t feel she had much reason to get out of bed, and she was worried she might fall over from the dizziness. Luckily, Martina’s husband had been warned by a social worker at the hospital that depression was a common response to stroke, and was quick to access counselling assistance for Martina with a professional therapist.

Martina attended counselling weekly for about 4 months. During this time, her counsellor helped her to overcome her grief, re-address her expectations and help her to devise practical ways to start living her life fully again.

Where to get help?

If you or someone you know has suffered from a major illness or injury, and you are concerned about the effects of reactive depression, then a professional counsellor, psychologist or therapist can help you deal with the emotional impact of your illness.

Contact Associated Counsellors & Psychologists Sydney for more information.



•    People sometimes develop Reactive Depression – Depression caused by a particular negative event or experience.

•    Patients who have experienced a major injury or illness often experience Reactive Depression as they struggle with the emotional impact of their injury or illness.

•    Counselling with a professional counsellor or psychologist can help you overcome depression and discover a new way to live after injury or sickness.

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