Plastic surgery, despite being a relatively new field of medicine, is starting to show links to psychology. Most people now believe that decisions to undergo cosmetic surgery are motivated by psychological reasons, and re-constructive surgery can have powerful effects on the mind. While the data is still considered incomplete, there is clearly a closer link between plastic surgery and mental health than initially assumed.
Of late, plastic surgery has experienced an incredible boom in the amount of business it is getting. The statistics tend to vary, but most agree that the increase is somewhere in the 650 to 700% range over the last decade. This is not merely because of the re-constructive value of plastic surgery, which is not as large a portion of the business as one might be led to assume. Most of the people who go to the office of a plastic surgeon go there for cosmetic surgery, rather than re-constructive surgery. In recent times, there have been some indications that these visits are more deeply rooted in a variety of psychological issues and concerns than previously believed. Some have even come so far as to claim that there is a strong link between physical appearance (as granted by plastic surgery) and mental health.
The primary mental health concern linked to plastic surgery is body dismorphic disorder. The disorder results in a person being convinced that their appearance is unsatisfactory, thus making them willing to undergo procedures over and over again. This is a major concern, as there are still only vague statistics to show that plastic surgeons are rejecting people who show the signs of this mental health disorder. The problem is often characterized by extreme levels of anxiety and discontent with one’s body, regardless of how many surgical procedures have been performed on it previously. In some cases, the procedures vary from visit to visit, which makes it difficult to diagnose without close observation. However, other patients with this problem may undergo the same form of surgery repeatedly.
Plastic surgery can and does have a number of positive side effects on a person’s mental health. The primary benefit comes in the form of recovery after the stress and anxiety caused by severe physical trauma. Repairing the physical damage can often be a critical step in helping someone adjust to getting back to a normal life and routine after being burned or physically traumatized. Whether the surgery should come earlier or later during the counseling process can vary depending on the degree of damage. However, it is generally accepted that re-constructive procedures are a major part of the emotional healing process. For some patients of physical trauma, having a surgical procedure to repair or mask the damaged areas is a critical step to get things back to normal, particularly if the damage is to a regularly exposed area of the body.
Cosmetic procedures can also boost someone’s self-esteem and help alleviate issues of social anxiety related to appearance. Some people can experience extreme social anxiety or status anxiety due to flaws in their physical appearance. It isn’t uncommon for plastic surgeon’s offices to have people coming in trying to have one area of their body fixed, usually because “it doesn’t go with the rest of my body” or “I’m just not satisfied with how it looks,” among other possible reasons. In those cases, provided that the patient does not have extreme expectations, the result can often alleviate any anxiety they may have placed on themselves because of that “flawed” area.
There may be other psychological benefits to plastic surgery, as the connection between the two is still an open area for further study. The presence of an in-house psychologist in the offices of some plastic surgeons is a sign that these connections are being taken seriously, and that the field is starting to “mature,” in a way. Whether or not more mental health benefits and disorders are linked to plastic surgery is a matter of speculation, but for now, the potential benefits outweigh the potential risks.