Weight-Loss Surgery Linked to Higher Suicide Risk

An estimated 225,000 Americans are undergoing weight-loss surgery every year, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery. Weight-loss surgery can improve the physical health of people who are morbidly obese, but there remains a great deal of emotional and psychological work to be done.

In addition to needing to address the emotional issues underlying the weight problem in order to prevent weight regain, a study published in The American Journal of Medicine suggests that weight-loss surgery recipients may have an increased risk of suicide in the years following the procedure.

Although the suicide rate for those who undergo weight-loss surgery is low, studies show that it is higher than the general population. The most recent study tracked individuals who underwent weight-loss surgery for 10 years following the procedure and provided the following findings:

  • Among 16,683 who had weight-loss surgery between 1995 and 2004, 31 committed suicide by the end of 2006. This translates into a suicide rate of nearly 14 per 10,000 men per year, and five per 10,000 women each year.
  • Among the general population in the same age range, the suicide rate for men in 2005 was 2.5 per 10,000, while the rate among women was 0.6 per 10,000.
  • Thirty percent of suicides among those who underwent weight-loss surgery occurred within two years of the procedure, and 70 percent occurred within three years.

While weight-loss surgery most definitely does not lead to suicide, the research suggests that some surgery patients may have depression or another mental illness that increases the suicide rate. Severely obese adults who are struggling with depression, anxiety, substance abuse and other mental health disorders require thorough screenings, assessments and treatment for any underlying issues that could impact the effectiveness of the surgery.

Researchers also noted that weight-loss surgery recipients require counseling and monitoring pre- and post-surgery to prepare them for life after the procedure. Some individuals may be disappointed with their weight loss or their overall quality of life, while others may not know how to handle the physical and emotional changes that accompany such dramatic weight loss.