Ways Elective Surgery Can Help Your Mental Health

Updated on May 12, 2023

In the complex world of healthcare, the line between physical and mental well-being is often more blurred than one might think. Physical health issues can take a toll on mental health, and conversely, mental health issues can manifest physically. This interconnectedness underlines the importance of a holistic approach to health and well-being.

One surprising area where this connection comes to light is in the realm of elective surgery. Elective surgeries—those that are planned in advance and are not emergencies—can have a significant impact on a person’s mental health. Whether it’s a corrective procedure to alleviate chronic pain, cosmetic surgery to improve self-esteem, or a life-enhancing surgery like bariatric or fertility procedures, these interventions can have profound mental health benefits.

This article aims to explore the various ways elective surgery can positively influence mental health. While the decision to have surgery should never be taken lightly, understanding the potential mental health benefits can be an important part of the decision-making process. Whether you’re contemplating elective surgery, a healthcare professional, or simply curious about the mind-body connection, this exploration provides valuable insights.

Understanding Elective Surgery

Before delving into the specifics of how elective surgery can impact mental health, let’s first understand what we mean by elective surgery.

Elective surgery refers to any surgical procedure that is planned in advance, rather than performed in an emergency situation. These surgeries are “elected” or chosen by the patient and their doctor because they offer significant benefits, but they aren’t necessarily optional. In some cases, delaying or avoiding the surgery could result in deterioration of the condition and quality of life over time.

Examples of elective surgeries range widely, from orthopedic procedures like knee or hip replacements, to cosmetic surgeries such as rhinoplasty or gynecomastia surgery (a procedure to reduce breast size in men), to life-altering procedures like weight loss surgery or in vitro fertilization. These procedures are generally scheduled days, weeks, or even months in advance, allowing ample time for pre-operative tests, consultations, and preparations.

It’s important to note that “elective” doesn’t mean the surgery is less serious or less important than emergency surgery. Many elective surgeries are significant procedures that require extensive recovery time and can have a profound impact on a person’s life. The term simply distinguishes these scheduled procedures from those that must be done immediately due to a medical emergency.

Understanding Mental Health

Mental health is vital at every stage of life, influencing our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions. It affects how we handle stress, relate to others, and make decisions. Good mental health contributes to our overall well-being and makes us more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.

There are numerous mental health issues that can be influenced by physical conditions. These include but are not limited to:

  • Depression and Anxiety: Chronic physical illnesses or conditions can often lead to feelings of despair, leading to depression. Anxiety, too, can arise from concerns about health, the impact of the condition on life, or worry about the future.
  • Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD): This involves obsessing over perceived physical flaws that are often unnoticeable to others. Certain physical conditions or changes can trigger or exacerbate BDD.
  • Eating Disorders: These can sometimes stem from negative body image or a desire to exert control over one’s body, which can be linked to physical health or changes in physical appearance.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): This can develop after severe physical trauma or life-threatening illnesses or conditions.

How Elective Surgery Can Improve Mental Health

Corrective Procedures

Corrective procedures, a type of elective surgery, encompass a wide range of operations designed to fix or improve a physical condition that negatively impacts a person’s daily life. Some common examples include spinal surgery, hip or knee replacements, cataract removal, and procedures to address chronic conditions such as gynecomastia.

One of the most significant benefits of corrective procedures is the alleviation of chronic pain. Chronic pain can be debilitating, not just physically, but also mentally. It can disrupt sleep, limit mobility, and make daily activities difficult, leading to feelings of frustration, helplessness, and despair. Over time, the constant struggle with pain can lead to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. By addressing the root cause of chronic pain, corrective procedures can significantly improve a person’s mental health.

Weight Loss Surgery

Weight loss surgeries, such as bariatric surgery, can have profound effects not only on an individual’s physical health but also on their mental well-being. These procedures, which include gastric bypass, sleeve gastrectomy, and adjustable gastric banding, are often sought by individuals who have struggled with severe obesity and have found limited success with diet, exercise, and medication alone.

Obesity is frequently associated with a range of mental health issues. Research has shown that people with obesity are at a significantly higher risk of depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders. This correlation can stem from several factors, including societal prejudice and discrimination, negative self-perception, and the physical discomfort and health problems often associated with severe obesity.

Reconstructive or Cosmetic Surgery

Reconstructive and cosmetic surgeries encompass a broad spectrum of procedures designed to restore or alter physical appearance. Whether it’s a reconstructive surgery following a mastectomy, a rhinoplasty to change the shape of the nose, or a gynecomastia surgery to address enlarged breast tissue in men, these procedures can have profound impacts on an individual’s mental health.

One significant mental health benefit of these surgeries is the restoration or enhancement of body image. Our physical appearance plays a significant role in our self-perception and self-esteem. When a person is unhappy with a certain aspect of their physical appearance, or if their appearance changes dramatically due to illness or injury, it can lead to negative body image and reduced self-confidence. This, in turn, can contribute to mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, or body dysmorphic disorder.

Fertility Treatments

Infertility, defined as the inability to conceive after a year or more of regular unprotected intercourse, affects many couples worldwide. The journey through infertility can be emotionally draining, often leading to feelings of frustration, sadness, anxiety, and in some cases, clinical depression. As such, the mental health impact of infertility is significant and far-reaching.

Elective procedures such as In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Intrauterine Insemination (IUI), or other assisted reproductive technologies (ART) can play a pivotal role in managing the mental health strain associated with infertility.

These treatments provide hope. The possibility of conceiving through these methods can offer a significant emotional boost to individuals or couples facing infertility. This feeling of hope and the forward momentum that treatment provides can act as a protective factor against feelings of despair and depression.

In addition, successful fertility treatments can alleviate the emotional distress directly associated with infertility. Becoming pregnant and having a child can remove the source of the stress, leading to improved mental health. For many individuals and couples, the joy and fulfillment of parenthood can lead to enhanced well-being and life satisfaction.

Determining Whether Elective Surgery Is Right for You

Choosing to undergo an elective surgery is a personal decision that can significantly impact your physical and mental health. However, it’s essential to remember that while these surgeries can offer significant benefits, they also come with potential risks and challenges. Every surgery involves some level of risk, including complications during surgery, post-surgery recovery time, and the potential for outcomes that may not meet expectations. It’s also vital to remember that while surgery can aid in improving mental health, it is not a substitute for professional mental health treatment.

If you’re considering elective surgery and believe it may improve your mental health, we strongly recommend speaking to a professional. This could be a trusted primary care physician, a mental health professional, or a specialist related to the specific procedure you’re considering. These experts can provide you with a comprehensive understanding of the potential benefits, risks, and realistic outcomes associated with the procedure. They can also guide you in making the decision that is best for your overall health and well-being.

Jennifer Bell is a wellness coach, mother of two, and writer for plastic surgery clinics in the Philadelphia area. She enjoys aiding others in finding physical and financial wellness.