You may be wondering why we talk about mental health and wellness when preparing for surgery. It’s good to remember that your mental health is the foundation of your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how you think, feel, and act as you cope with life. It also helps determine how you handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Caring for your mental health is important at every stage of life.

Mental health issues take many forms. Some are mild and only affect daily life in limited ways, such as certain phobias (fears). Others are more severe. No matter what, it’s important to know that mental health issues are common and nothing to be ashamed of.

Your mind and body are connected. You deserve care that supports your total health—mind, body, and spirit. If depression, anxiety, addiction, or other issues like these are interfering with your daily life, Kaiser Permanente can help.

 

In the Options program, we like to think about mental health and wellness in three key areas: relationship with self, relationship with food, and relationship with others. Check out the key messages for each below.

Key Messages - Relationship with Self

Realistic Expectations

Surgery is just a tool. Long-term lifestyle changes are the key to success after surgery.

Power of Your Mind

One main difference between people who are successful and people who regain weight after surgery is the proper use of mental health and wellness tools, resources, and professional support when needed (before and after surgery).

Embracing Change

Behavior change takes time. I don’t have to be perfect, and it’s normal to slip up or get off track. Finding coping tools that work for me will help me feel my best and maintain my weight loss long term.

Positive Body Image

Many people who have had surgery struggle with body image before and after surgery. Developing a positive body image before surgery can help me begin to feel at home in my own skin and prevent serious complications, such as depression, isolation, and eating disorders.

Getting Support

Recognizing when I need a bit more help is a strength. There is no shame in knowing what I need for long-term health and getting professional help.
Key Messages - Relationship with Food

Realistic Expectations

Surgery is just a tool. While my physical sensations of hunger may change after surgery, my emotional relationship with food will not unless I change my behavior.

Healthy Relationship with Food

Developing a healthy relationship with food before surgery will help me long after.

Emotional Eating

My relationship with food and eating will change after surgery. I can learn skills to help prevent emotional eating and manage slipups if and when they happen.

Addiction Transfer

It’s common for addiction to transfer from food to smoking, alcohol, or other substances or activities before and after surgery. I need to understand the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of addiction and know where and how to get help.

Getting Support

Recognizing when I need a bit more help is a strength. There is no shame in knowing what I need for long-term health and getting professional help.
Key Messages - Relationship with Others

Realistic Expectations

I understand that my support system is an important part of my life, but I also need to prioritize taking care of myself.

Preparing Yourself and Others

Surgery not only affects me but also those around me and how I react to them. It’s important that I prepare myself, my family, and my friends for life after surgery.

Communication Skills and Boundary Setting

After surgery, open communication, being assertive, setting boundaries, and managing emotions are important skills that will help me cope in my relationships with others.

Relapse and Getting Back on Track

Getting off track is normal. Recognizing when I’ve returned to old habits and seeking helpful resources is how I can get back on track.

Getting Support

Recognizing when I need a bit more help is a strength. There is no shame in knowing what I need for long-term health and getting professional help.

There is no shame in getting support.

Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you had a broken leg, you would seek help to make sure it healed properly. Mental health is the same! Getting the right care is key to helping you heal.

Important Mental Health and Wellness Considerations

Metabolic and bariatric surgery is a tool that can support overall health and wellness. However, it is important to be aware of some important mental health and wellness considerations that surgery can impact or influence, including trauma, addiction, depression, disordered eating/eating disorders, and relationships.

Trauma

What do we mean by trauma?

We often think of trauma as a specific event, but in fact, trauma has a much broader definition. Trauma stems from a life-threatening or physically or emotionally harmful event or set of circumstances that has lasting effects on a person’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. In the United States, 61% of men and 51% of women report exposure to at least one lifetime traumatic event.

Why is recognizing trauma important?

If you have had any type of trauma in your past that may be affecting your current behavior, it can help to talk to a professional. Trauma, whether experienced in childhood, adolescence, or adulthood, can impact the success of surgery and reduce the likelihood of long-term weight loss.

Professionals can help you get past events or learn to cope so you can have long-term success and happiness after surgery.

There are many resources at Kaiser Permanente and elsewhere that can support you and help you get back on track. You are not alone.

Addiction

People who have had surgery are at increased risk for addiction transfer (also called cross addiction). This means trading one compulsive behavior for another one. Addiction can take many forms, such as alcohol, opioids or other pain management medications, and other substances or behaviors. It’s important to understand the risk factors and signs and symptoms of addiction and know how to get help.

Factors that increase the risk for addiction transfer:

  • History of eating disorders, food addiction, or compulsive eating
  • Family history of substance abuse
  • Regular alcohol use before surgery
  • History of chronic pain or overuse of narcotics for pain management
  • History of trauma, especially childhood sexual abuse
  • History of depression and other mood or anxiety disorders
  • Lack of adequate support or feeling isolated
  • Avoidance of emotions and experiences
  • History of engaging in self-sabotaging behaviors (binge eating)

Signs and symptoms of addiction may include:

  • Needing more of the substance or behavior to get the same effect
  • Doing a behavior or using a substance longer or in higher amounts than planned
  • Not being able to cut down, even when you want to
  • An increase in negative consequences caused by the use or behavior (issues with self, family, friends, work, and/or legal problems)
  • Others have suggested that you stop or cut down
  • An increase in hiding or covering up the behavior or use
  • An increase in feelings of guilt and shame
  • Craving or having a strong desire or urge for the substance or behavior
  • Withdrawing from important social, job-related, or recreational activities because of substance use

A Special Note on Alcohol

After surgery, the way the body tolerates alcohol changes for many reasons.

Change
Reason
Faster alcohol absorption Your stomach is smaller and/or bypassed, so you will absorb alcohol much faster.
Alcohol takes longer to process For many reasons, alcohol may take longer to be processed by your liver and clear your system.
No eating while drinking Because the diet after surgery recommends that you do not eat and drink at the same time, alcohol will be absorbed faster because there is no food to slow it down in your digestive system.
Chemical/hormonal changes from surgery The chemical/hormonal changes that result from surgery can affect the way your body and brain process and respond to alcohol.

 

Alcohol is not recommended after surgery. It’s important to get help if you’re struggling with any substance abuse before or after surgery. Learn more about resources to support your health at Kaiser Permanente.

There are many resources at Kaiser Permanente and elsewhere that can support you and help you get back on track. You are not alone.

Learn more about cross addiction and bariatric surgery:

Depression

How common is depression after surgery?

Most people who have surgery will not become clinically depressed. About one-third of patients do report some minor symptoms of depression, which we call “post-op blues” (like “baby blues” after giving birth). Post-op blues often happen in the first few weeks or months after surgery when you are still recovering and adjusting to a new way of life. You may ask yourself:

  • Why did I do this?
  • What was I thinking?

This is not depression, and it’s normal to feel this way. It usually goes away within a couple of months.

Depression can range from very mild to severe. It’s important to be able to recognize symptoms and ask for help if needed, both before and after surgery.

If post-op blues don’t go away or get worse, you may be having symptoms of underlying depression. If you have the following symptoms, it’s important to know that you can get support. Depression is very treatable.

Symptoms of depression:

  • Sadness
  • Loss of interest
  • Changes in sleep
  • Changes in appetite
  • Social isolation
  • Helplessness
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Irritability
  • Low motivation
  • Thoughts of suicide
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased anger and/or frustration

If you are currently on depression medications, it’s also important to let your doctor know. Your doctor may need to adjust your medications after surgery depending on the dosage.

There are many resources at Kaiser Permanente and elsewhere that can support you and help you get back on track. You are not alone.

Disordered Eating and Eating Disorders

Having surgery does not address underlying contributors to disordered eating, which may continue to get in the way of your weight loss efforts after surgery. Therefore, it’s important to recognize symptoms of disordered eating or an eating disorder because it can have serious complications, especially when paired with surgery.

Learn more at about eating disorders at kp.org or nationaleatingdisorders.org

Recovery is possible, and help is available! Talking to a professional can help. There are many resources at Kaiser Permanente and elsewhere that can support you and help you get back on track. You are not alone.

 

Recognizing Relapse and Staying on Track

Things don’t always go as planned, and making a major lifestyle change is not always easy. It’s OK to slip up. Check out some quick tips for getting back on track below.

Looking for More Support?

Explore more resources offered by Kaiser Permanente to help support your mental health and wellness, including support groups, workshops, coaching, self-care apps, and audio meditations.

Options Support Group:

Center for Healthy Living:

Mental Health and Wellness at Kaiser Permanente:

Self-Care Apps:

Audio Meditations: