Most severely obese people experience much better spirits once they shed weight through a diet, lifestyle changes or medical intervention, such as gastric bypass surgery. This is unfortunately not true for everyone, says Valentina Ivezaj and Carlos Grilo of the Yale University School of Medicine in the US. In an article in Springer’s journal Obesity Surgery, the researchers advise that the levels of depression in patients be measured six to 12 months after they have had such bariatric (gastric bypass, or lap band) surgery. This will ensure that the necessary help can be provided when needed.
This should come as no surprise to those of us who are diagnosed with clinical depression or bipolar disorder. We’ve been trying to get the general public to understand that depression does not go away by thinking happy thoughts, going on vacation, or, apparently weight loss. The death of a loved one, losing a job, or a crippling disease can cause depression for many people, but, for most the depression goes away with time. This is dramatically different for those of us living with depression who get depressed for no damn reason whatsoever. How wonderful it is when our depression fades, but these are only temporary. We know that nasty old depression is still lurking in the background.
The researchers set out to investigate how prone bariatric patients are to still experiencing depressive symptoms, and especially if such symptoms increase markedly or not at all, after post-surgery. Their study is the first to examine patients with discernible worsening depressive symptoms six and 12 months following gastric bypass surgery.
Self-reported questionnaires were completed by 107 patients with extreme obesity before they underwent gastric bypass surgery, and then again six and 12 months after the procedure. They were asked to reflect on their levels of depression, possible eating disorders, their self-esteem and general social functioning. Of the 107 participants, 94 were women and 13 were men, 73 were white and 24 had completed college.
Consistent with previous research, Ivezaj and Grilo observed that most people who had undergone this procedure were in much better spirits. In fact, most patients reported experiencing a normal and improved mood at six and 12 months after surgery. However, in some cases negative mood changes started to creep in between six and 12 months after the operation. “The majority of patients whose mood had worsened discernibly experienced these mood changes between six and 12 months post-surgery, suggesting this may be a critical period for early detection and intervention, as needed,” explains Ivezaj.
“The increases in symptoms of depression are also notable given that they were associated with other difficulties including lower self-esteem and social functioning,” adds Grilo.
To me, this study does have a couple of bright spots, albeit small. The first is that it validates clinical depression is not situational – it’s vastly different than just the blues. I embrace any source that helps the general populace understand this. The other bright spot that can be drawn from this study is it can prepare those who are clinically depressed from having unrealistic expectations. As a person who gave serious thought to having the surgery, I will admit that I thought it would be the answer to all my prayers. Now I know gastric bypass surgery is not a cure all from depression. It certainly can help one feel better mentally, but it’s not likely to have long term effects.