Researchers Find Correlation Between Breast Augmentation, Suicide
> 8/9/2007 10:23:35 AM

Plastic surgery is often portrayed as a vice of the vainglorious or rich and famous, but in reality there were over 1.9 million cosmetic surgical procedures performed last year. Statistics compiled by the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery show that of those procedures nearly 400,000 were breast augmentations, the second highest total of any single procedure and the most popular among women. With the ever increasing numbers of women opting for breast enhancement it's difficult to generalize about the population, but a study released by a team of researchers from Vanderbilt University has found that there may be underlying mental health concerns for many who undergo this procedure.

The study, which appears in this month's edition of the Annals of Plastic Surgery, followed up on the progress of a cohort of women who participated in a Swedish study regarding outcomes after breast augmentation. The group analyzed causes of death for the group and discovered that rates of suicide within the group were three times that of the regular female population. Individuals who underwent breast enhancement were also more likely to have died as a result of alcohol or drug abuse.

What is unclear from the data is the exact nature of the link between these statistics. The team behind the report speculated to Reuters that it may be that women who seek out breast augmentation may be at greater risk for developing a mental health diagnosis like depression. That is to say that the prevelence of mental health disorders is higher among women who opt for the surgery than in the population at large. The team found that the increased suicide risk did not appear in the cohort until 10 years after the surgery. It could be inferred that for some women breast enhancement is seen as a "cure" for chronically low self esteem. The ten-year data point suggests that for a time the surgery does alleviate some of the problem, but that eventually the chickens of an unhealthy psyche come home to roost.

It needs to be made clear that the number of women whose causes of death could be linked to mental health concerns was small even within the study. The death rates were much higher than the population at large, but only future research will allow stronger conclusions. What is clear at this juncture is that more thorough pschological screening, both before and after surgery, might be appropriate. Elective cosmetic surgery should not be restricted or at all impeded by these screenings, but it would make sense that since we know there is a connection, that we use it to help improve the lives of those who may unknowingly be dealing with depression, anxiety or any number of mental health conditions.

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