Many people mistakenly believe that plastic surgery is only for vain people looking for more attention or more attraction. But while there are some superficial people out there, most of the people interested in plastic surgery are either trying to recover from an injury or deformity, or are trying to improve their own mental health.
Being unsatisfied with your own appearance can have devastating mental and emotional consequences, rendering you almost unable to form meaningful relationships with others and stoking feelings of inadequacy, loneliness, and depression.
The question is, can plastic surgery make these problems go away?
The Complexity of Mental Health and Surgery
First, we have to address the complexity of the problem. There are many variables to consider here, including:
- Our lack of understanding of mental health. It’s incredibly difficult to pin down what constitutes a mentally “healthy” individual. There are dozens of variables to consider, including depression, anxiety, body dysmorphia, social phobias, and overall happiness—so how should you measure these? And what if a person, after recovering from plastic surgery, experiences gains in one area while suffering even more in a different area? Is it fair to say they saw an improvement in mental health? The reality is, even our best experts still don’t have a firm grasp on the nuances of mental wellbeing.
- The relationship between attractiveness and happiness. It’s easy to assume that physically attractive people tend to be happier and mentally healthier, but the research seems to indicate otherwise. Merely being more attractive isn’t enough to give someone a mental health boost. Of course, what we see in many plastic surgery procedures isn’t necessarily about making someone more attractive; it’s making them feel more attractive. More on that later.
- The quality of the surgery. We’ve all seen examples of “botched” plastic surgeries that end up making someone appear unnatural, or worse than they did before. Certainly, the quality of the surgical procedure plays a role in whether plastic surgery has the power to improve your mental health.
Big Picture: Wellbeing After Surgery
Let’s take a look at the high-level perspectives on whether plastic surgery can improve mental health. One study of 544 participants who underwent plastic surgery and 264 participants who considered plastic surgery but didn’t go through with it found that yes, plastic surgery can improve mental wellbeing. Those who underwent plastic surgery showed improvement in many different areas, including reduced social phobias, reduced anxiety, lower levels of depression, less body dysmorphia, higher feelings of attractiveness, higher self-efficacy, higher self-esteem, better life satisfaction, and self-reported feelings of quality of life. It’s important to note that most of these participants were dissatisfied with a particular feature of their body, and underwent surgery to correct that feature.
In fact, multiple studies seem to confirm that people undergoing cosmetic surgery tend to be “happier” after the procedure. One follow-up attempted to dig deeper into the issue, finding that other variables can play a role in whether or not a patient shows improvement; for example, patients with unrealistic expectations tend to show fewer positive outcomes than those with appropriate expectations. Additionally, patients with extreme body dysmorphia may never feel truly satisfied with their bodies, no matter how many surgeries they undergo.
Plastic Surgery vs. Mental Health Treatment
Of course, it would be irresponsible to suggest that plastic surgery is a suitable treatment for things like anxiety disorders or body dysmorphia. In the vast majority of cases, the appropriate course of action is to speak with a mental health professional. In many cases, cognitive behavioral therapy can help patients better cope with their feelings and think in a healthier way. In other cases, a prescription medication may be better suited to alleviate symptoms.
Key Factors for Mental Health Improvement
If you’re interested in improving your own mental wellbeing with plastic surgery, there are a few things you need in order to be successful:
- Mental health issues tied to physical dissatisfaction. Just getting a facelift or a breast augmentation is not going to make you happier and reduce your anxiety. Instead, your mental health issues have to be rooted in some kind of physical dissatisfaction. For example, you may feel lower life satisfaction or lower self-esteem because you hate the way your nose looks; in these cases, plastic surgery is addressing a root cause. If the root cause is something that surgery can’t reach, surgery isn’t going to help.
- Realistic expectations. It’s also important to have realistic expectations about what surgery can do for you. While plastic surgery procedures can sometimes provide extreme results, in most cases, they’re better suited for subtle alterations. If your expectations are too high or aren’t grounded, you could end up disappointed.
- Successful surgical procedures. If your surgery is done poorly, you may end up feeling worse than you did before you got the procedure. That’s why it’s important to do your research and work with a plastic surgeon trained and experienced enough to almost guarantee you a successful procedure.
- Additional support. In most cases, people see better mental health results after plastic surgery if they’re also benefitting from additional modes of support. They’re going to therapy. They’re taking medication (if recommended by a professional). They’re talking to friends and family members openly. The combination of these factors can have a much more powerful effect than just one.
The Bottom Line
The key takeaway here is that, while plastic surgery shouldn’t be considered as a total substitute for other modes of mental health treatment, most people who undergo plastic surgery feel happier and exhibit fewer signs of negative mental health after their procedures. In other words, plastic surgery can improve your mental health under the right conditions.
If you’d like to speak with a surgeon directly about what kind of procedure may be right for you, or if you’re not sure what your options are, contact us to schedule a free consultation today! We’ll discuss the surgical options available to you, and set expectations for how you might move forward.