Mental health concerns after a transplant

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Everybody feels sad sometimes and we all have times when we worry. This is completely normal.  Sadness and worry only become a problem when they interfere with our day-to-day routine or enjoyment of life for a long time.

Mental health is about how we feel, how we think and how we perceive things around us. The most common mental health problems in young people are:

They both involve changes in how you feel, how you think (slower thinking, more negative thoughts) and how you view the world around you. Someone might feel depressed and anxious at the same time or move from one state to the other.

When you have a transplant, it is not unusual to feel sad sometimes or perhaps more anxious about your future than if you had been healthy. Talking to your support system can often be helpful if you are worried.


Depression is what we call a syndrome. This means it is a bunch of symptoms (things you experience) and signs (things other people can observe about you).

Lots of people will have a couple of these signs or symptoms or will have lots of them for a short time. But to be depressed, you need to have several of these signs or symptoms and they must last for at least two weeks. Interestingly, many teens don’t feel sad when they are depressed.

Some signs and symptoms of depression

  • Feeling that things do not seem fun
  • Loss of interest in normal daily activities such as hanging out with friends
  • Feeling sad or down
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Crying spells for no apparent reason
  • Problems sleeping (most commonly, having a hard time falling asleep or waking up a lot during the night)
  • Trouble focusing or concentrating
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Unplanned weight gain or loss
  • Being easily annoyed
  • Restlessness
  • Feeling fatigued or weak
  • Feeling worthless
  • Thoughts of suicide or suicidal behaviour
  • Not taking care of yourself (neglecting to shower, wear clean clothes, brush your teeth, take your medicines...)
  • Unexplained physical problems, such as back pain or headaches

All of these can also be caused by medical problems or by things such as substance abuse.

If you have some of these symptoms, talk to a nurse, doctor or social worker. They can help figure out what is going on. Depression can be treated very successfully with medicine, talk therapy or a mix of the two.


Everyone experiences anxiety sometimes – it’s that feeling you get when you have a big test or you hear that your blood test results are way off. Some people describe this as a gnawing feeling in their gut or a buzzing feeling. They may have pain in their head, chest or stomach. An anxiety disorder, however, is an excessive, irrational fear or nervousness that has a major impact on your life.

Anxiety disorders are often treated effectively with cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is designed to help you understand how and why you see things the way you do or act in a certain way. Over time, it can help you develop healthier patterns of thought and behaviour.

As with depression, serious anxiety can be treated with medicine, talk therapy or both. Your transplant team can tell you which medicines are ok to take with your transplant medicines. Don’t start on a medicine without checking with the team.

If you feel you may have anxiety, lots of help is available. Ask a member of your transplant team if they can refer you to a social worker, a psychiatrist or a doctor in adolescent medicine in the hospital or if there are any services you can use in the community.


Not every teenager, let alone every transplant patient, is depressed or experiences anxiety. And having a transplant does not make it more likely that you will have depression or anxiety.

Last updated: November 30th 2017