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Cosmetic Surgery and Mental Health – Can You Cope?

plastic surgery and mental healthDream of doing an optional cosmetic procedure, in hopes it will change your life? Cosmetic surgery and mental health are deeply connected, and there are many things to consider before an operation. 

The positive effects of plastic surgery

When it comes to cosmetic surgery and mental health, it’s true that there can be positive results. If we were bullied since a child over something surgery fixes, it can be a great relief and help us move on. And a procedure can help with our physical health, an example being a breast reduction that ends years of back pain.

But it’s important to not be so focussed on looking different we overlook the full scope of the surgery experience.

Am I really prepared for what plastic surgery entails?

First of all, cosmetic surgery is not without risk, and pre-surgery nerves can exacerbate anxiety and other mental health issues.

And it is painful. Navigating recovery, if don’t have a good support system, can leave us feeling overwhelmed and low. We can start to doubt our decision, be angry at ourselves, or feel lonely.

Surgery can also sometimes result in long-term side effects, or can mean issues years later. An example is the breast implant scandal here in the UK. If things do go wrong, you need to be sure you can cope.

Weight loss surgery and psychological assessment

Note that it’s not always just a question of recovery. In some cases cosmetic procedures require long term or even lifelong upkeep, something many don’t consider.

cosmetic surgery and mental healthWeight loss surgery, also called bariatric surgery, is a case in point. In a sign of just how closely cosmetic surgery and mental health are connected, it is a requirement in the UK to have a psychological assessment in advance. 

An assessment is to make sure that you can emotionally and mentally cope with what the surgery involves, and the healing process. 

But it’s also to ensure you have the mindset and capacity to handle the commitment of sticking to a strict diet, exercising, and attending life-long follow up appointments to monitor your health. It’s more than many people consider when they first think of the operation. 

What are my intentions and expectations of a cosmetic procedure?

Again, it’s normal to expect a bit more self-esteem, or to end years of physical pain or difficulties.

But sometimes our intentions and expectations of plastic surgery can be unrealistic. We can start to believe that it will change everything.

Unrealistic expectations of surgery can look like:

  • thinking we will now like ourselves if we didn’t before
  • expecting our relationships to improve
  • or that suddenly others will like us or we’ll find a perfect partner
  • assuming we’ll have better career opportunities.

Surgery doesn’t change who you are as a person. Your relating issues will still be very much intact, as will the ways you think and behave.

And if we don’t think this through in advance, surgery can leave us feeling worse instead of better. 

Who are you doing surgery for?

plastic surgery

photo by: Anthony Tran

This is a question that will be looked at if you attend a psychological assessment for cosmetic surgery procedures.

If deep down you are doing a plastic surgery procedure to impress somebody, or they have demanded you do it, it’s not a good idea. It might even be that you are in a relationship that is emotionally abusive or what involves what is called ‘coercive control’.

A healthy relationship never involves another person judging your body or telling you they will love you if you change your looks.

The psychological dangers of cosmetic surgery

Mental health issues and cosmetic surgery procedures have a complicated relationship and have been the subject of quite a number of research studies.

On one hand, mental health conditions make you more likely to want to seek cosmetic surgery in the first place.  Many affect your self-esteem or skewer your thinking about your appearance and worth, making you feel you must change yourself. 

A research study looking at 121 clients seeking bariatric surgery, for example, found that 22.3% reported sexual sexual promiscuity, 19% admitted to alcohol abuse, and 9.1% of participants acknowledged a history of suicide attempts.

On the other hand, cosmetic surgery can trigger mental health issues you might have thought you had under control, like anxiety, depression, and self-harm.

Breast augmentation has been the focus of study for over 40 years. A review of the research to date found that while post-operative satisfaction can be high, and body image can improve, rates of suicide amongst women with cosmetic breast implants was shown to be two to three times the expected rate. 

Mental health issues affected by surgery

It’s important to be honest with your surgeon and consider a pre-cosmetic surgery psychological assessment to see how you can cope with your mental health during surgery if you suffer from:

Body dysmorphic disorder in plastic surgery candidates

Body dysmorphic disorder means that you have a preoccupation with a body part that you perceive as flawed even though it isn’t. And the endless worry this causes you means substantial distress that negatively affects you daily life.

Examples of body dysmorphic disorder are:

  1. Being convinced you are very overweight to the extent you don’t date or take a job int he public eye, when in reality you are only half a stone more than average.
  2. Thinking you have such an unsightly nose you always wear hats or your hair hanging in your face, even if it’s worsening your vision. Really your nose has a tiny bump on the bridge that is normal.

The problem with body dysmorphia is that we don’t realise we have it. It starts in adolescence. So by the time we are adults, obsessing over our body just seems normal to us. And when we look in the mirror we really do see a flaw.

Research states that up to 15% of patients who go for a plastic surgery consultation have body dysmorphia, and that they are typically dissatisfied with the outcome of any surgery they try, which can even result in violence towards self or suicidality.

The power of a pre surgery assessment to make your procedure go smoothly

 A pre cosmetic surgery psychological assessment can help you:

  • mentally and emotionally prepare for what lies ahead
  • get in place a good support system
  • be sure of your intentions
  • regulate your expectations
  • troubleshoot any mental health issues that might need dealing with first
  • discuss coping skills that can help.

Sure you want cosmetic surgery, but also want to make sure you are in a good mindset first? Book a session for a pre cosmetic surgery assessment now with one of our expert and friendly psychologists or psychotherapists. 

Still have a question about cosmetic surgery and mental health? Post below. Note we can not offer diagnosis and counselling over comments. 

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    Dr. Sheri Jacobson


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