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Why You Can’t Ignore Mental Health After Bariatric Surgery

Woman in dark room staring off into distance

It can be a “chicken and egg – which came first?” Question. Did the excess weight cause depression and anxiety, or did those mental health concerns cause the extra weight? The answer isn’t always straightforward for bariatric patients, so you must prioritize your mental health before and after surgery.

We all get in a rut, and everyone feels nervous at some point or another. However, these feelings must be addressed when they become chronic and start interfering with daily life and your lifestyle – ideally even before. To be sure, obesity has been shown to increase the incidence of depression and anxiety. Why is this? Generally, as we gain more weight, we withdraw from many of the social and physical activities we enjoy. Sometimes, this is from embarrassment, while other times, it can be physical – we can’t do it because of the weight. Going on vacation may be a struggle; we can’t fit into the airline seat, or the theme park or roller coaster has a weight or size limit. We also tend to shy away from social activities, thinking that our friends and loved ones may judge us for gaining weight. No matter what the reason, obesity also throws our hormones off-balance, which can lead to different emotions and feelings.

However, mental health issues can also cause obesity. Many people suffering from clinical depression avoid exercise and other activities that would otherwise keep their weight in check. For some, it’s challenging to get out of bed. Anxiety can be similarly debilitating. Other mental health concerns can also cause or worsen an excess weight problem. Even some medications that treat these mental health concerns have known side effects, including weight gain.

While we may never know definitively, in each patient, whether the excess weight or mental health concern came first, we do know that the interplay between the two can create a vicious cycle, with either one worsening the other. The result is that physical and mental health problems collide to debilitate the person dealing with these issues.

Taking a Two-Pronged Approach

If excess weight and mental health issues have been causing problems, both must be addressed simultaneously. For example, if you’ve had bariatric surgery, you may still suffer from mental health concerns, which can eventually derail your fantastic progress. Similarly, if you are addressing your mental health concerns but have been frustrated by being unable to lose weight, putting the physical worries behind you once and for all may be challenging.

As you may already know, bariatric surgery is the most reliable, long-term excess weight loss option for those suffering from obesity. Further, we always tell our patients that seeing a mental health professional before and after surgery is a great way to help ensure their continued health and success. All patients will have to undergo a psychological evaluation before they have surgery. This is not because we think they have an addiction or are in any way less than mentally sound. However, it is a great way to uncover deep-seated issues that may surface after surgery. The pre-op psych eval is also a good time for patients to ask questions about the bariatric process they didn’t want to discuss with their surgeon. That said, too few of our post-op patients avail themselves of professional mental health counseling – this can be a difference-maker, too.

It’s important to remember that you only have one life to live. You’ve taken a fantastic step by visiting our website and considering bariatric surgery. If you’ve already had bariatric surgery, congratulations! Along with any weight loss program, you must change your mental health paradigm, especially if you have been diagnosed with a mental illness.

To the extent that we can help, we are here for you and look forward to walking alongside you toward physical and mental wellness.

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