Diana Zuckerman, PhD, Women’s Health Issues: August, 2016
Breast augmentation is the most common cosmetic surgery in the United States, and many women are also encouraged to choose breast implants for reconstruction after a mastectomy. However, studies in the United States and Scandinavian countries have shown that suicide rates are higher for women with implants.
These studies raise a key question: Do implants increase the risk of suicide or do pre-existing mental health problems increase the likelihood of undergoing breast implant surgery and also increase suicide risk? And is the link between implants and suicide different for women undergoing reconstruction after a mastectomy than it is for women considering breast implants to augment the size of healthy breasts?
Several researchers and plastic surgeons have suggested that women undergoing breast augmentation tend to have lower self-esteem and that explains higher suicide rates. This article is the first to take a comprehensive look at implants and suicide, by considering information from studies measuring self-esteem, self-concept, mental health, and quality of life among women before and after getting breast implants for either augmentation or reconstruction.
Which Comes First: Breast Implants or Depression?
There are six studies that found that suicide rates are between two times and 12 times higher for augmentation patients than for similar women without breast implants, including other cosmetic surgery patients. There is one study that found that mastectomy patients were 10 times as likely to kill themselves if they have breast implants.
Suicide rates are relatively high for breast cancer patients, but this study shows that it is much higher for mastectomy patients with implants than for mastectomy patients without implants.
Research also shows that women who decide to get breast implants tend to have higher self-esteem than average women before getting breast implants and do not show any other signs of poor mental health. However, two years after getting breast implants, women tend to report feeling worse about themselves and to describe themselves as less healthy. Those results are similar whether the women are augmentation patients or reconstruction patients.
In other words, the confident women who get breast implants tend to be less confident and have a less positive self-image afterwards – except in terms of how they feel about their breasts. In addition, they are more likely to kill themselves. That is true whether they got implants for augmentation or for reconstruction after a mastectomy.
In conclusion, scientific evidence suggests that breast implants may have risks to mental health. Although suicide among women with implants is below 1% in every study, the rates ranging from 0.24% to 0.68% are significantly higher statistically and clinically than rates for comparable women without implants.
Many plastic surgeons tell patients that breast augmentation will make them feel better about themselves, and that reconstruction after a mastectomy will make women feel “whole” again. Instead, the research suggests that breast implants tend to have a negative impact on women, and that any women who feel depressed or have low self-esteem prior to getting breast implants should never be encouraged to get breast implants.
In order to understand the relationship between breast implants and suicide, studies are needed that provide appropriate mental health testing before surgery and years afterwards, with interviews used to ask the women themselves about their experiences with implants and how they feel about themselves and their lives.