Gastric Bypass Surgery Is No Cure For Depression

Weight problemMost 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.

  7 comments for “Gastric Bypass Surgery Is No Cure For Depression

  1. November 10, 2014 at 23:34

    I have a family member who had the surgery last year, Bradley. I remember the pre-surgery buildup, the expectation that it would be a cure-all for her depression. The thinking was that the inability to lose the weight caused the depression. She followed the guidelines and had to lose the first 25# on her own, which she did because she was every motivated. Long story short, after the first 100# gone, the motivation was gone, the feelings of deprivation set in, and then drinking…I’d get a lot of counseling before hand. I think WW is the best real lifestyle program–good for you for going that route.

    • Bradley
      November 10, 2014 at 23:59

      I’m so sorry that it didn’t work out well for her. Makes me extra relieved I didn’t go through with the surgery, because I know I would have expected sunshine and lollipops for the rest of my life afterward.

      I love WW. It’s taken me a lot longer to lose 50lbs than I would have liked, but that was my fault for going on and off the program rather than staying with the program throughout.

      • November 11, 2014 at 17:44

        I think a lot of people have those expectations. Unfortunately, the severe restrictions are meant to be a lifestyle for a lifetime–not too many people can handle that kind of deprivation. No doubt WW works if you follow it.

  2. November 10, 2014 at 08:05

    I commend you for exploring not just the weight loss that the surgery promises, but also researching the other ways it can affect people. Whenever we alter something in our bodies to achieve a goal its going to have a rippling affect somewhere within us mentally, spiritually or physically. The financial aspect of having surgery done can possibly affect us as well.

    I can tell you this, I had a friend at my past job who had weight loss surgery done and she lost the weight but she ended up with big rolls of skin hanging from her abdomen and was told she needed surgery to fix that. I was told that that is a common problem because the skin is not elastic enough to keep up with the quick loss. However, she did get down to a nice trim size.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post.

    • Bradley
      November 10, 2014 at 09:54

      When I spoke with the surgeon about the surgery, he told me they require everyone to lose 10% of their weight before they can do the surgery. My thought was if I can lose 10% of my weight, then why wouldn’t I just keep going. That’s when I decided to join Weight Watchers instead. I don’t regret cancelling my surgery at all.

      • November 10, 2014 at 10:26

        I remember you posting about your decision and I am glad you are working it out yourself with Weight Watchers. I have no doubt though that there are some folks out there who truly can’t do it without the surgery–I respect their decision. Well, you know there are a few fans of yours, myself included, who are rooting for you.

      • Cat
        November 18, 2014 at 06:55

        I’ve often wondered about this lose ‘10% first’ and have even watched programmes where the person lost more than 10% but still chose surgery. As for weight loss not curing depression, that’s just what I’d expect. Very interesting post.

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