Suicidal thoughts and behaviors in adolescents who underwent bariatric surgery

Meg H. Zeller, Jennifer Reiter-Purtill, Todd M. Jenkins, Katherine M. Kidwell, Heather E. Bensman, James E. Mitchell, Anita P. Courcoulas, Thomas H. Inge, Sanita L. Ley, Kathryn H. Gordon, Eileen A. Chaves, Gia A. Washington, Heather M. Austin, Dana L. Rofey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Background: Extant literature warns of elevated suicide risks in adults postbariatric surgery, making understanding risks for adolescent patients imperative. Objectives: To examine prevalence and predictors/correlates of suicidal thoughts and behaviors (STBs) in adolescents with severe obesity who did/did not undergo bariatric surgery from presurgery/baseline to 4 years postsurgery. Setting: Five academic medical centers. Methods: Using a prospective observational design, surgical adolescents (n = 153; 79% female, 65% white, mean [M]age = 17 yr, Mbody mass index[BMI] = 52 kg/m2) and nonsurgical comparators (n = 70; 80% female, 54% white, Mage = 16 yr, MBMI = 47 kg/m2) completed psychometrically sound assessments at presurgery/baseline and postsurgery years 2 and 4 (year 4: n = 117 surgical [MBMI = 38 kg/m2], n = 56 nonsurgical [MBMI = 48 kg/m2]). Results: For the surgical group, rates of STBs were low (year 2 [1.3%–4.6%]; year 4 [2.6%–7.9%], similar to national base rates. Groups did not differ on a year 4 postsurgical STBs (post-STBs) composite (post-STBs: ideation/plan/attempt; n = 18 surgical [16%], n = 10 nonsurgical [18%]; odds ratio = .95, P = .90). For the surgical group, predictors/correlates identified within the broader suicide literature (e.g., psychopathology [P < .01], victimization [P < .05], dysregulation [P < .001], drug use [P < .05], and knowing an attemptor/completer [P < .001]) were significantly associated with post-STBs. Surgery-specific factors (e.g., percent weight loss, weight satisfaction) were nonsignificant. Of those reporting a lifetime attempt history at year 4, only a minority (4/13 surgical, 3/9 nonsurgical) reported a first attempt during the study period. Of 3 decedents (2 surgical, 1 nonsurgical), none were confirmed suicides. Conclusions: The present study indicates that undergoing bariatric surgery in adolescence does not heighten (or lower) risk of STB engagement across the initial 4 years after surgery. Suicide risks present before surgery persisted, and also newly emerged in a subgroup with poorer psychosocial health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)568-580
Number of pages13
JournalSurgery for Obesity and Related Diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Bariatric surgery
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Suicide
  • Young adult

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery


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