Mental Health Week: Obesity & Mental Health

Obesity and Mental Illness

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week is an annual national event that takes place during the first week in May to encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.

Obesity and Mental Health are often intertwined, and are often referred to as a “double epidemic”, with mental health issues sometimes causing obesity, or obesity sometimes contributing to mental health issues. Studies have shown that obese people are about 30 percent more likely to experience a mood disorder like depression compared with those who are not obese. Factors of obesity that can contribute to mental health disorders include lack of physical activity, low self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and weight-based teasing.

In people with obesity, fat tissue is linked to producing higher levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a chemical introduced by fat tissue that, in high amounts, is linked to depression. If someone is vulnerable and then start putting on weight, this physiologic consequence of weight gain is going to increase their risk of mental illness, such as depression. And someone with an untreated major mental illness is less likely to be successful in a weight-management program.

Successful long-term weight management isn’t always a matter of fewer calories in than out; it’s about permanent behavioural changes. Making such changes, however, relies on things like intention, willpower and coping skills, all of which reside in the mind. But what if mental illness taxes the brain’s ability to plan, execute and sustain the efforts required for weight management?

Obesity is a complex problem that requires a multifaceted team approach, given its downstream health effects and the complicit role that mental health may play in the management of a person’s weight. Make sure if you are choosing to have a bariatric procedure to address your weight issues that your choice of provider has the capabilities and support to help ensure your best outcome in both areas – physical and mental.

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For more information on CMHA’s Mental Health week, visit