Nearly one in five adults in the United States struggle with mental illness. And more so in overweight Americans. "Obesity is associated with an approximately 25% increase in odds of mood and anxiety disorders and an approximately 25% decrease in odds of substance use disorders." Mental health is a big deal that affects every aspect of one's life. The most common mental health disorders that affect people are anxiety disorders and mood disorders (such as depression). Of course, there are a lot of factors at play when it comes to mental health including career types, trauma, major life-changing events, and poverty, but one recent study in Europe wanted to isolate the factors of weight loss and specifically weight loss surgery to find if mental health outcomes improved after weight loss and if the method made a significant difference.
The study occurred in Poland and Germany and was just published last month (January 2022). They sought to compare bariatric surgery to conventional weight loss plans and determine if either contributed to a decline in mental health disorders, specifically depression, anxiety, and stress. Researchers conducted a baseline test and then a follow up after 12 months of treatment (either 12 months after surgery or after 12 months of "conservative weight reduction treatment").
In both groups, patients had a similar baseline of mental health disorders and both groups benefited greatly from their treatments. After 12 months of treatment--of any kind--results were statistically significant and cannot be overlooked. However, in all three measurements: depression, anxiety, and stress, patients undergoing bariatric surgery had considerably better outcomes in mental health scores. Researchers also noted that scores improved even more in people living in Germany than people living in Poland, possibly due to Germany's emphasis on obesity support groups.
The main conclusions that we can draw from this study are that weight loss tends to be correlated with an decrease in mental health disorders, that people who have long term weight loss success tend to have continued improved mental health, weight loss surgery tends to result in more weight loss compared to traditional weight management plans, weight loss surgery has more measurable benefits in tests of depression, anxiety, and stress than non-surgical treatment, and support groups/therapy is helpful for improvements in mental health.
If you are struggling with any kind of mental health disorder, please contact your doctor and discuss your options. Weight loss is only one factor in mental health; there are many components to consider and no one change is a cure-all. But this study does suggest that weight loss does play an important role in mental and emotional health.
Paczkowska, A., Hoffmann, K., Raakow, J., Pross, M., Berghaus, R., Michalak, M., . . . Kus, K. (2022). Impact of bariatric surgery on depression, anxiety and stress symptoms among patients with morbid obesity: International multicentre study in Poland and Germany. BJPsych Open,8(1), E32. doi:10.1192/bjo.2021.1084