Weight isn’t the only burden: Post-bariatric patients have higher suicide rates

MeasuringTape Noose

“Even if you remove the burden of weight, you don’t remove the burden of disease.”     -Dr. John M. Morton, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery

A recent Canadian study found in a group of individuals who underwent weight loss surgery that they were twice as likely to attempt suicide or exhibit self-harming behaviors.  The authors suggested that the decline of mental health may be due in part to the way bariatric surgery affects the metabolism of alcohol leading to a lowered tolerance.  They also suggested that the addictive behaviors are displaced–meaning the addiction to food is replaced with an addiction to another substance such as prescription medication.  Over half of the suicide attempts of individuals in the study involved overdoses of prescription drugs.

Dr. John M. Morton, president of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, expressed the opinion that we do a better job screening potential patients for bariatric surgery here in the U.S.  He acknowledged that many people with obesity also have underlying psychological issues that often remain after the burden of the weight is removed.

The first thought I had upon reading the Los Angeles Times article describing the study centered around trauma.  The study didn’t look at trauma, but I would suspect that many of the individuals struggling with obesity have some sort of trauma history.  What starts as a psychological and emotional comfort can also give an added side benefit of protection from others.  This is often the case when someone has been sexually abused.  The weight becomes both literally and figuratively a protective layer in an attempt to shield against future abuse.

Addiction to food while it may have similarities to addiction to other substances has one major distinction that makes it especially challenging–we need it to live.  Other substances can be completely cut out, but we must engage in some kind of relationship with food.

In Brookhaven Hospital’s Pathway to Eating Disorder Treatment program, we can help you find a healthy relationship with food.  We treat both men and women with eating problems across the spectrum from restricting to binge eating.  If you or your loved one would like more information, call us at 888.298-HOPE (4673).

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