Aid for obese people with mental health problems

The Psychosomatic Clinic at the Universtiy Hospital Leipzig offers special care.

In Germany, more and more people suffer from overweight almost a quarter is even obese (adipose). Many of them additionally suffer from obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular or joint ailments. These comorbidities are treated medically. Less attention, however, is paid to psychological ailments. In fact, obese people have an increased risk of 55 percent to suffer a depression that can be the result of obesity caused by weight-related discrimination and stigma. Increased weight though can also occur due to a psychiatric disorder. Thus, depressed people have an increased ¹ risk of 58 percent to suffer from obesity. Furthermore, mental disorders are known to complicate the treatment of obesity. So, anxiety disorders and eating disorders, in particular binge eating, are often associated with overweight and obesity.

Psychological factors affect the Body Weight

Intensive research has shown: genes, metabolic processes or overeating are not the only reasons for overweight. The cuases are much more complex. Often only the combination of various factors contribute to excess weight. Psychosomatic aspects of obesity ought to be considered for each individual patient biography, explains Prof. Dr. Anette Kersting, Director of the Clinic for Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, University Hospital Leipzig. "Food has to fulfill other important functions besides the achieving satiety. Food is frequently used for the regulation of emotions, for example to better one's mood and well-being. Some parents console their children with chocolate." Furthermore eating disorders associated with binge eating and loss of control can lead to obesity," the doctor explains who is heading research projects at the Integrated Research and Treatment Center (IFB) AdiposityDiseases in the field of binge eating and bariatric surgery.

Individual Therapy for obese People with Psychosomatic Diseases

Prof. Kersting and her team have developed a specialized treatment approach for obese patients with psychomatic disorders at the Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy. In the Psychosomatic Clinic, patients have the opportunity to receive a comprehensive diagnosis and specific treatment recommendations. Patients with an increased body mass index (BMI) higher than 30 kg/ m² are treated either in the day hospital or ambulantly. Each patient's individual biography and symptoms are being considered for an adequate diagnosis and treatment. Individualized personal instruction together with group therapy units belong to the therapeutic approach. Sustentative factores which enforce obesity are being discussed, special attention is being given to their effects on eating behaviors.

First of all, patients are supposed to learn more about their disease and about healthy eating. Besides sports, relaxation exercises and nonverbal elements such as body-, art- and music-therapy are part of the therapy. The latter are used to deal with issues that are not easily accessible by words. In this way, therapists intend to influence the main reasons for the disease as well as sustentative factors for the overweight and stressful psychological symptoms. After a detailed analysis of causes for the disorder, the implementation phase follows. Then, patients can try to apply learned behavior structures, first in therapy situation and later in allday life.

Anyone interested in a preliminary talk, may apply directly to the psychosomatic clinic. Further information can be found in the broschure of the ambulance (link) and the website of the hospital. People require a treatment need to bring a referral from the family doctor or a specialist.

Annekathrin Härter

Contact details of the Psychosomatic Clinic

Phone: (03 41) 97 188 58
Telefax: (03 41) 97 188 29
Email: psychosomatik [dot] ambulanz [at] medizin [dot] uni-leipzig [dot] de

Sources:  (1) Luppino et al., Arch Gen Psychiatry, 2010

Keywords: causes of obesity, associated diseases, psyche