How can plastic surgery impact your mental health

OP. DR. YUNUS DOĞAN

Plastic surgery can fix what ails you: small breasts, large breasts, thick hips, cleft palate, burn trauma, migraines… the list is practically endless. And it varies in degree of severity to your health with a debatable level of necessity. Will you die if you don’t increase your breast size? No but your self esteem could use some more volume. There is a definite correlation between our intangible thoughts and our physical characteristics.

Plastic surgery has become synonymous with cosmetic surgery but they’re not always the same. There is a branch of plastic surgery called reconstructive surgery that can restore physical function to damaged body parts. Knowing the depth of what plastic surgery truly can do is important in knowing why or how it can affect our mental health. Plastic surgery scratches deeper than the surface; it does more than plump up lips and remove fat. It also does more than heal chronic headaches and remove wartime scars. Plastic surgery can heal the mind if it’s healthy enough.

Today we talk about the impact of plastic surgery on one of the most important but less cosmetically popular body parts, the brain.

Who is THAT?

The reflection we see in the mirror can captivate us as children. Before we learn how to feel about that reflection, while we’re still in the bliss of the innocence of youth, we laugh at what we see. Maybe we clap our hands and smile. As we age and start to feel the pressures of society, our interpretation of that reflection can change, not always in a positive way. We may develop negative thoughts about ourselves as our bodies change.

Does my brain need lipo?

A number of factors influence how we truly see our reflections in the mirror, ranging from our family’s support (or lack thereof) to our genetics and the physical shape and status of our bodies. Circumstances such as whether any outside trauma has come to us, and how our clothes fit today to how we felt when we first woke up this morning can influence our perception of ourselves. Not everyone loves their reflection but a majority of us don’t hate it all the time. Then there’s the minority…

Body dysmorphia (also known as body dysmorphic disease or BDD) is a mental health problem that affects around 2% of the general population, or 1 in 50 people worldwide. This condition involves severe self-scrutiny over details that are not apparent to others. People with BDD are obsessed with their bodies in an unhealthy way; constantly checking their appearances in mirrors, seeking outside validation regarding their appearance or spending an excessive amount of time grooming themselves.

Regardless of how much time they spend preening, their perception is untouchable. The disease can be temporarily relieved with cosmetic surgery but more often than not, that obsession returns or manifests itself in other ways. Patients can have any procedure under the sun, from a BBL (Brazilian butt lift) to a tummy tuck, but the excitement and pleasure stemming from the results are only temporary. It’s not a hopeless situation: BDD can be clinically treated by professional cognitive therapists. Read more about BDDhere.

The ups and downs of nips and tucks

If you’re in the 98% that isn’t affected by BDD, plastic surgery can improve your quality of life and positively impact your brain. Once you’ve weighed the risks that naturally come with any surgery against the benefits you want to achieve, the next step on this exciting journey is finding a surgeon you can trust. After clearly communicating your expectations, following your surgery plan and seeing positive results, your mental health could improve. If you like what you see in the mirror, your self esteem could proportionately grow along with the body part you’ve enhanced. (Unless you’ve had something reduced, then it would be proportionately opposite. Does that make sense?)

Even if you don’t have BDD, you might not be completely satisfied after your plastic surgery. An interesting (but slightly dated) article by the American Psychological Association presented a duality of the effect of plastic surgery on patients’ mental health. In short, plastic surgery can improve your overall opinion of yourself and the specific area of your body you’ve recently improved, but the satisfaction may be limited based on outside influences or uncontrolled/undiagnosed mental disorders.

For example, patients who are predisposed to suicide, depression or a personality disorder may naturally be incapable of finding sustainable longterm satisfaction from plastic surgery. In the short term, these patients may be happy with their surgery results but as time progresses, their overall attitude remains discouraged.

The last stitch

Can plastic surgery impact your overall health? Absolutely. It can change your bra size, repair damaged bone structure and remove excess skin. You can look in the mirror and see immediate change that could be an improvement, resulting in an increase in your happiness. Will plastic surgery fix all the negative aspects of your life? Possibly - depending on the nature of those aspects - but probably not if you are one of the 970 million + people in the world living with mental illness.

As of 2019, the World Health Organization estimated that at least 1 in 8 people was afflicted with a mental disorder, and this was prior to Covid. The pandemic only increased the number of people suffering with mental disease, according to the WHO’s report. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons released data revealing an increase of 200% in the number of minimally invasive plastic surgeries since 2000, since Covid. In other words, more people turned to plastic surgery after Covid. Chasing happiness through surgery was a trend for a reason. Could it help you?

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