Falling prey to mental disorder after surviving a serious illness

Patients recovering from serious illnesses can become afflicted with mental disorders, say experts.

PETALING JAYA: Unknown to most people, patients who have survived serious illnesses such as cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases often face mental health disorders on the road to recovery.

As many as 40% of stroke victims suffer from depression, and many of them also suffer from anxiety, according to neuropsychiatrist Dr Chee Kok Yoon.

He told FMT that mental disorders can either be a direct result of a stroke or caused by the patient’s physical or mental disability following the stroke, when they experience weakness in their body “and may have difficulty memorising things, or be unable to solve problems or to plan”.

This could then develop into depression, said Chee, who heads the neuropsychiatry unit of Kuala Lumpur Hospital.

Many people who suffered from stroke were 40-50 years old and within a productive age group, and some could be the sole breadwinner of their family.

“Imagine having a stroke at the age of 45, what are you going to do with your family? This is where anxiety can set in.”

There was a lack of awareness and lack of case detection of mental health disorders among stroke patients, he said, partly because stroke victims tend to have difficulty communicating..

Although 30-40% of them had mental health issues, the number of cases referred to mental health specialists was not that much, “which means that we have missed a lot of cases”.

These patients could become suicide risks. He said those who cared for patients of non-communicable diseases should keep an eye out for behavioural changes and not overlook or dismiss their temperament.

The head of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, Azrul Mohd Khalib, said physical inactivity and harmful use of alcohol and tobacco were risk factors for non-communicable diseases as well as mental disorders.

“By considering mental health and other non-communicable diseases together, we can improve the lives of the people affected,” he said.

A clinical psychologist, Dr Chua Sook Ning, said that mental health and physical health were closely related. “Mood is affected by physical health, likewise, physical health is affected by mood.”