Stroke can bring huge emotional challenges. It can affect every aspect of your life, leaving you feeling shocked, angry, and grieving for the life you had before. So it's not surprising that the Stroke Priority Setting Partnership, led by our charity, identified improving care for psychological wellbeing after stroke as one of the top priorities for stroke research.
Loretta Hanley, 57 from Manchester, found her mental health took a huge dip after her stroke.
'I was near the hospital when my stroke happened because I was visiting my mother. I saw someone come out of the hospital and explained to them that I was feeling a numbness in the left side of my body. It was when I arrived in A&E that I was told I'd had a stroke.
'I didn't believe I'd had a stroke at first. I tried to be as normal as I could, but when the truth caught up with me, I just went down. I tried to do things, but it was like learning again, going back to not being able to write. Everything stopped and it was like being a baby again. It makes me mad. I get so frustrated.'
Through her local stroke group, Loretta signed up to take part in research led by Dr Emma Patchwood at the University of Manchester. Emma is funded by the Stroke Association and is investigating ways we can improve the mental wellbeing of stroke survivors and carers.
'Too many stroke survivors struggle with their mental health,' says Emma. 'My research is about helping people improve their own mental and emotional wellbeing, by working with the effects of stroke, not against them.'
Emma is hoping to test and develop treatments based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, where stroke survivors are supported to help them come to terms with the debilitating effects of stroke. People affected by stroke could learn to practise these techniques on their own, empowering them to protect their wellbeing and rebuild their lives after stroke.
'These techniques could help people have positive transformational shifts in thinking about their own lives,' Emma explains.
'It's a bit like a puzzle where, with the right perspective, you might be able to see things differently and the picture makes sense again.'
Since being involved in the study, Loretta has found the techniques useful for dealing with the daily frustrations that she faces.
'I have made progress. I try my best and I push myself, even though it takes its toll on me,' she says. 'It makes me feel good to know that I'm helping out. The research will help everyone in the long run, so people don't have to suffer like they do. If I hadn't taken part, I don't think I'd feel as good as I do now.'
Dr Emma Patchwood's tips for looking after your wellbeing
- Connect with loved ones. If you can't see friends or family face to face, use the phone or video calling to check in and talk about good times you've shared, like birthdays or holidays.
- Talk to other stroke survivors. You can talk to someone who knows how you feel by joining a group or through the My Stroke Guide discussion forums, Here For You telephone service and the Stroke Helpline.
- Switch off the news. Too much negative information can feed anxiety. Try to limit this by setting aside a short and fixed amount of time to get up to speed with current events.
- Do things you enjoy. Watch your favourite film, take part in a hobby, do a leisure activity or look through a photo album. You could try writing down your experiences or have a go at drawing.
Find out more about Dr Emma Patchwood's research into mental health after stroke.
Read more about looking after your wellbeing.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the winter 2021 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.