Any surgery is difficult. It involves healing and pain, and there is a lot of stress and anxiety before and after any procedure. This is no different for bariatric surgery, such as gastric sleeve surgery. While you would have to make the choice to go through such a process, there is no doubt that you will be nervous, excited, and also scared of what’s to come.
Once the procedure is finished and you are on your way to a new body, you may have some mental health issues as well. It’s not just a case of removing the fat and moving on with your life. There are things that you will struggle with, including potential eating disorders and depression. As a patient, it’s important to remember that you will be susceptible to these things and to take the necessary steps to manage them.
Prior to surgery
Once it gets to the point of having bariatric surgery, there’s a good chance that you’ve struggled with your weight for a long time. This can come with a whole host of mental health issues. People can become depressed from having a negative body image and from being in poor health. They may also suffer abuse and ridicule because of their weight. Then, there’s the feeling of hopelessness when many attempts at dieting and exercising have been unsuccessful. Being overweight is also associated with binge-eating disorders. Counselling is a crucial step before surgery to address these issues and prepare for what is to come.
Then, there is also the mental toll of preparing for the surgery itself. There is a great fear of the unknown. Anxiety and stress can become crippling, but it’s important to be as educated as possible about the process. There will be pain and soreness when recovering, but they will be temporary. Many people are scared of the procedure itself and worried that they may be permanently injured or worse, while on the table. Again, education is crucial to becoming more comfortable with the process and understanding the pros and cons of why you are undertaking it. Every surgery comes with risks, however, bariatric surgery is safe and effective. This won’t eliminate all of your stress and worry, but it may help alleviate it.
When the scalpels have been put away and the healing has started, the issues and struggles don’t all just disappear. Binge eating is like an addiction, and surgery will not fix it. However, many patients will experience addiction transfer. What this means is that the body and mind had gotten used to using food for relief and comfort. After surgery, patients might be able to break that specific habit, but end up starting another instead. This could be anything, from gambling to substance abuse. It’s very important to identify if this is happening to you after bariatric surgery and seek counselling to fight it.
Having surgery might reduce fat, but it doesn’t take away what led to the weight problem in the first place. You will have to change your lifestyle to achieve true long-term success. This means changing what you eat and how you exercise, and it might also involve changing your sleep patterns and other facets of your lifestyle. It isn’t easy, and many patients experience anxiety and depression over the massive changes that are going in their lives that go beyond having a new body.
The other anxieties are more social. Having a new body means possibly having more attention. That means that if you are used to being ignored or dismissed, then you may feel uncomfortable having people come up to you and talking about having the surgery, and about your new look. There may be more scrutiny on the things you eat, as well as your exercise habits. Many patients say that they have experienced negative attention as well. They may find that people are looking down on them or are judging them for ‘cheating’ by having surgery. This can often come from people who are jealous. These are all things that can affect mental health and cause symptoms of depression and anxiety
Having the right mental and psychological support throughout the process and beyond is very important for health and to maintain the results of the surgery. Counselling and education are key components to leading a happy and healthy life. Not only that but as time goes on, new habits will also help with your mental health. For instance, healthy eating is known to have many mental health benefits, along with giving you the energy you’ll need to get through your exercise regimen. Exercise can also release endorphins that will improve your mood and keep you positive when you need it.
The data shows that bariatric surgery can be a success. However, along with the procedure, you must also focus on your mental health to be able to achieve the full results and live a happier and healthier life.
Helen Bradfield did her degree in psychology at the University of Edinburgh. She is interested in mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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