Diana Zuckerman, PhD, National Center for Health Research, Women’s Health Issues: August 2016
Breast augmentation is the most common cosmetic surgery in the United States, and many women are encouraged to undergo breast augmentation to improve their lives, self-esteem, or relationships. 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?
Several researchers and plastic surgeons have suggested that implants are a symptom of depression rather than a cause, or that higher suicide rates were related to the fact that women getting breast implants tend to be young, single, and smokers – traits that also increase the risk of suicide. If they are correct, breast implants are not having a negative impact on women’s lives and should not be blamed for the increase in suicides.
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.
Which Comes First: Breast implants or Depression?
We 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. The increase in suicide was for women of all ages, but was especially high for women after menopause. In addition, one study of mastectomy patients found that they were 10 times as likely to kill themselves if they have breast implants!
However, research also shows that women who decide to get breast implants tend to have higher self-esteem than the average women before getting breast implants and do not show 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.
In other words, the relatively healthy and confident women who get breast implants tend to be less healthy and less confident afterwards. And, 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.
With millions of women with breast implants, the consistent evidence that women with breast implants are more likely to kill themselves is reason to be very concerned. This is especially true since many plastic surgeons tell patients that breast augmentation will make them feel better about themselves. Instead, the research suggests that women who feel depressed or have low self-esteem 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 afterward, with interviews used to ask the women themselves about their experiences with implants and how they feel about themselves and their lives.
All articles are reviewed and approved by Diana Zuckerman, PhD, and other senior staff.