Obesity and Its Impact on Mental Health

obesity scale

While the world’s population has been going on a rising trajectory, it has also been growing heavier by the year.  Obesity is now a global health issue.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the epidemic is spawned by the pervasive issues of unhealthy diets and low physical activity.  Obesity is expected to be one of the biggest killers by the year 2020.

High body mass indices (BMIs) of 30 or more plague an estimated 300 million people globally at every social class and age group, particularly in the U.S., U.K., Middle East,  Australia, China, and the Pacific Islands.  Much more disturbing is the phenomenon of rising child obesity which has almost tripled within the last three decades.

Notwithstanding the fatal repercussions morbidly excessive weight can have on physical health, obesity takes its toll on mental health as well.

The Relationship between Obesity and Mental Health

Research backs evidence of an intrinsic link between obesity and common mental disorders. Obesity can cause depression, anxiety, and other unhealthy mental conditions just as these mental illnesses can lead to obesity.  According to the March 2011 National Obesity Observatory paper on Obesity and Mental Health, studies point to a two-way correlation between depression and obesity.  “Obese persons had a 55% increased risk of developing depression over time, whereas depressed persons had a 58% increased risk of becoming obese.  Another recent systematic review and meta-analysis found a weak but positive association between obesity and anxiety disorders.”

Generally, an obese person is not a very happy person.  Obesity can trigger many unhealthy psychological conditions:obesity stigma

Depression

A higher incidence rate of depression occurs among morbidly obese individuals, especially those with BMIs of 35 and over.  Studies also reveal that obese children often rate their quality of life lower than children suffering from cancer.  The Swedish Obese Subjects (SOS) study disclosed that very obese individuals often had as much as or higher depression scores than patients who were afflicted with chronic pain.

Western culture places a stigma on weight and as a result, excessively overweight individuals tend to develop self-imposed social isolation, poor self-image, and low self-worth, all major contributory factors to depression.  This has not been without just cause, though.  Society has not been very kind to the excessively overweight.  Fat people have often been ridiculed, ostracised, and stereotyped; hence leading most overweight individuals to adopt even more self destructive behaviours such as binge eating and substance abuse.

There is a silver lining though.  When obese patients begin to take off significant weight, their mental state also begins to improve.

Anxiety and Mood Disorders

A study that involved NESARC data found that obese persons were one and a half times more likely to report a mood disorder or panic attacks that have been plaguing them for the past year or as long as they can remember.  Extremely obese individuals were twice as likely to report the same.  The anxiety phenomenon is stronger in women than in men.

Because of Western culture’s aversion to fat people, obese individuals can develop social anxiety disorder (SAD) just from the sole reason of being extremely overweight.  Such a disorder has served to impair their functioning in their social milieu.

On the obverse, anxiety can breed obesity as well.  Anxiety can trigger compulsive and excessive eating patterns and depress the will to engage in physical activity, two factors which generally lead to obesity over time.

What Can Be Done?

For people with mental health disorders due to obesity, there is good news.  Mental health conditions significantly improve as one reduces his weight.  However, making radical changes to lifestyle eating and movements may backfire if one does not make such changes with a support group or team.

Consider approaching the obesity problem with the help of qualified professionals.  Your GP can draw up a safe, balanced eating plan and exercise regimen while a psychiatrist or psychologist can help you discover the core issue behind overeating and your subsequent weight gain.  These professionals can also help you deal with negativity and low self-esteem.

Depending on the level of obesity, medications for obesity or surgical procedures such as gastric bypass, bariatric surgery, and the like may be prescribed.  However, lifelong lifestyle changes will always be obligatory to complement and maintain obesity treatment.

HIV and AIDS

hiv virus

What is HIV?

HIV or human immunodeficiency virus is a disease that compromises the immune system, gradually leaving the victim defenceless against other diseases.  The virus attacks white blood cells called T-helpers or CD4s and replicates itself inside these.

Different strains of HIV exist and these can coexist in one infected individual.  HIV resides in bodily fluids such as semen, blood, vaginal and anal fluids, and breast milk.  Sweat or urine however are not carriers of the virus and therefore HIV cannot be transmitted through these bodily excretions.

A person can be infected with HIV through:

  • Vaginal and anal sex without condoms –The most common form of transmission from which 95% of cases in the UK in 2013 resulted.
  • Breastfeeding — Infected mothers pass the virus to their babies through breast milk.
  • Injections by contaminated needles or other equipment that pass through skin
  • Unprotected oral sex and sex toy sharing although the risks are very low with 1 in 5,000 chances of transmission

HIV is incurable but people who are diagnosed early on and get good medical treatment can live long lives with the disease.

As of 2014, about 103,700 cases have been diagnosed in the U.K.  About 60% of these cases fall within the age range of 35-54 and the remaining 40% are distributed among the young and senior group.  The highest incidence of HIV in the U.K. is among two groups: gay and bisexual men and black heterosexual men.  Sadly, there are perhaps numerous cases undiagnosed simply because of lack of knowledge.

It is easy to miss the onset of HIV because the early symptoms mimic those of the flu.  Symptoms such as joint pain, fever, sore throat, and body rash appear 2-6 weeks after contraction of the disease.  After this period, the symptoms disappear for years; that is why symptoms can be brushed aside as simply indicators of common influenza.

HIV can be asymptomatic for as long as ten years.  The infected person can actually feel healthy and well during this time period.  This is a major reason why there are numerous individuals who remain undiagnosed.  The asymptomatic period is dangerous because the afflicted person does not know that his immune system is gradually being damaged to the point where the body is left defenceless to all sorts of illnesses.  In the advanced stages of HIV, the patient may experience:

  • Weight losshiv uk stats
  • Recurring infections
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Swollen lymph glands
  • Dangerous and life-threatening diseases
  • Skin disorders such as red or purple blotches, rashes, etc.
  • Night sweats
  • Chronic diarrhoea
  • Sores in the mouth, genitals, and anus

What is AIDS?

AIDS or acquired immune deficiency syndrome is an illness that attacks an HIV patient towards the last stage of the HIV infection when the immune system has been rendered helpless against the onslaught of various illnesses.  AIDS is therefore euphemistically known as advanced HIV infection or late-stage HIV.  Because an AIDS patient has no defence against disease, death can result from infections from other illnesses such as pneumonia, cancer, and tuberculosis.  Even mental illness such as depression and dementia can set in with AIDS.  Any sort of illness can invade the body at the AIDS point because the body has been left wide open to health invaders.

The Psychological Impact of HIV and AIDS

Despite the decreasing numbers fatalities because of adequate treatment and increased public awareness, HIV and AIDS remain highly stigmatised diseases.  An HIV diagnosis on the outset is highly traumatic as it not only means that one is harbouring an incurable and possibly fatal illness but it also means the likely possibility of becoming a social pariah.

The stigma of HIV and AIDS has left many feeling isolated and very lonely.  Fear of rejection from potential partners hound many HIV-positive people and these feelings are of especial concern to infected adolescents growing into adulthood.  Shame and embarrassment are also other factors that positively diagnosed individuals feel as the disease is still socially viewed as proof of immorality.  As a result, HIV patients have higher incidences of depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.

Depression in itself causes physical problems with HIV patients.  Depressed people are less likely to stick to their medical treatments, a phenomenon lessening their chances of being able to live long, normal lives with the disease.

An HIV patient does not need to disclose their condition to just anyone; but he or she must have at least one supportive person they trust to talk to about their situation.  There are also organized HIV-support groups to touch base with other people afflicted with the same condition.  Talking to other HIV-positive people can dampen feelings of isolation and rejection.  In addition, professional support from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or social worker may greatly help your mental and emotional condition.

When an HIV patient’s mental and emotional health is addressed, their adherence to their anti-retroviral treatments, reduction of high risk behaviours, and their social engagements become remarkably improved.  Quality of life for an HIV-positive individual need not be severely compromised as long as he takes care of his physical, mental, and emotional well-being.