Obesity and mental health ailments often coexist and are often referred to together as the twin epidemics. It is seen that mental health issues may lead to obesity and sometimes obesity may lead to mental health issues.
Patients who suffer from obesity are subjected to weight-based stigma and bias in many aspects of their lives. Society perceives them in a negative manner and labels them as individuals with low willpower and self-restraint.
Their value is judged on the basis of external appearance and not on the basis of their capabilities. They are constant subjects of ridicule and continuously receive unwarranted advice about their weight and body shape. This has a negative effect on body image and eventually may lead to low self-esteem and depression. It is seen that women are more prone to depression associated with obesity than men.
During the covid 19 pandemic, social distancing norms in most countries have forced patients suffering from obesity to stay indoors. This has led to immense stress and uncertainty in the lives of individuals suffering from obesity.
It has made them more vulnerable to over-eating and sedentary lifestyle, thus making the way for further weight gain. Currently, social media is flooded with weight-based memes and weight stigmatizing content. This further reinforces the bias that individuals suffering from obesity may be lazy and less active and have less will-power.
Internalization of these weight biased attitudes in media portrayals has been shown to cause adverse effects on psychological health, leading to more depression and anxiety, low self-esteem, body image issues, and disordered eating. Weight-based internalization is also associated with greater emotional distress and has been linked with depression.
People who suffer from mental health ailments to start with are also more prone to developing obesity. Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome have been seen to be associated with schizophrenia. Many antipsychotic medications also lead to weight gain and have an impact on insulin sensitivity.
Psychiatric disorders are also associated with comfort eating, a lack of interest in preparing healthy meals, impulsive eating, and sometimes food addiction. Resulting weight gain in these patients leads to further increase in psychological problems thus forming a vicious cycle.
It is important to recognize that obesity has debilitating effects not only on physical health but also on mental health. As the covid-19 pandemic continues to create disruption in our lives, it is high time that we give a thought to creating systems through which we can help our patients.
We need to use technology to its full potential so that we can spread positive messages, encourage our patients online, and change the tone of social media messaging.
At the same time we need to educate ourselves and those around us to practice self-compassion and mindfulness, and we also need to become more sensitive to issues faced by patients suffering obesity.