Weight loss surgery has been linked to increased self-harm and suicide attempts. In light of this new trend, scientists in Canada tracked 8,815 bariatric surgery patients for three years following their procedures. The researchers at Sunnybrook Research Institute in Toronto found that 1.3 percent of the patients who underwent weight loss surgery later became hospitalized for self-harm incidents, many of which were emergencies. The Canadian study had many findings that explain the cause of this link and how it affects the large population of bariatric patients.
First, the study takes a look into the lives of bariatric patients before they had weight loss surgery. It has long been proven that obese individuals are more likely to experience depression than individuals of average weight. Therefore, the likeliness of these obese people inflicting harm upon themselves was already high before weight loss surgery. The most common forms of self-harm in obese individuals are substance abuse and eating disorders. The study found that after weight loss surgery, this likeliness greatly increases simply due to the realization that being obese was the least of their problems.
In the three years following bariatric surgery, the researchers noticed that subjects who were low income had a higher probability of self-harm and suicide than others in the study. Additionally, post-surgical individuals who lived in rural areas were just as likely as poor patients to experience depression that leads to self-harm. The study also found that this unfortunate after-effect is more likely to occur in affluent countries. In the United States, self-harm and suicide by obese individuals is highly probable. The study’s lead author, Dr. Amir A. Ghaferi of the University of Michigan Health System, believes that the increased stress in patients after surgery is the cause of the increase in suicide attempts.
“The operation affects so much physiologically but also socially for the patient and I think all of those are going to contribute to the increased risk.”
Despite this belief, other experts believe that the pre-existing psychological issues remain after surgery, which is not something the patient expects and therefore leads to increased depression. Recently, Dr. John M. Morton of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery told the L.A. Times that the Canadian study ignored this seemingly obvious fact.
“Even if you remove the burden of weight, you don’t remove the burden of disease.”
In the United States, nearly 6 percent of the population is considered morbidly obese, according to the study’s introduction data. The researchers hold that bariatric surgery is effective in achieving the amount of weight loss needed to tackle the morbid obesity issue, as it has been found the diet and exercise practices worldwide are ineffective. Bariatric surgery has also been the sole weight loss tactic successful in resolving Type II Diabetes. With rates of obesity only increasing, health care professionals recognize the potential increase in depression and therefore included mental health counseling in North American bariatric programs.
The issue with these programs, according to one expert, is that they are voluntary. “It’s up to them to carry through with that, and it’s not always covered through insurance programs,” says Dr. William S. Richardson of New Orleans. In agreement with others, Richardson finds that study to be missing certain important facts and stresses the importance of mandatory mental health counseling for post-surgical bariatric patients.
“What this study really shows overall is that we are not taking psychiatric care in general as seriously as we need to; and certainly in the obese population. We need to work on their psychiatric problem.”
The study of the psychological health of individuals who have undergone weight loss surgery is published in the JAMA Surgery Journal. The study concluded that bariatric patients are at high risk for mental disease following surgery and saw a 3.63 to 1,000 chance of self-harm or suicide.
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