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Q&A: Exploring the ties between physical and mental health

Obesity and Mental Health conference programme title page

By Joan Chang, Communications Coordinator with Public Affairs at CAMH

You likely know obesity is a health problem for the general Canadian population. What you may not know is that obesity is of particular concern for people with mental illness.

I spoke with Dr. Rohan Ganguli, who has been studying obesity and mental health for 15 years. He’s Senior Scientist at CAMH, Professor of Psychiatry with the Faculty of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in Chronic Disease Management at the University of Toronto. He’s one of the organizers and speakers at this year’s Mental Health and Obesity Conference (pdf), on May 14 in Toronto.

Q: Dr. Ganguli, how does obesity intersect specifically with mental health?

A: The research clearly shows there’s a correlation between obesity and anxiety and depression. Medication can contribute to that and people are struggling with many, many issues. They’re invariably poor, dealing with stigma and disabilities related to their psychiatric disorders at the same time as they’re dealing with obesity.

What we don’t know and why we’re doing this research is what direction does the cause move in. Is it obesity that causes depression or is it depression that causes obesity?

Q: Why is it important to address obesity hand-in-hand with mental health issues?

Dr. Rohan Ganguli in front of a window, big smile

Dr. Rohan Ganguli

A: It’s really a matter of life and death. People that I’m mostly involved with clinically, and in our research, are people with serious mental illnesses – psychotic illnesses – schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

On the whole they’re dying anywhere from 15 to 25 years earlier than the rest of the population. At least half of those premature deaths are explainable by the high rates of obesity.

Common sense suggests that if you have mood disorder and obesity, treating one and not the other is not likely to restore this person to health. Health is not just physical or mental, it’s both.

Q: How will this conference help in fighting obesity among people with mental illness?

A: You have to be aware of it. One purpose of the conference is to increase awareness. The conference will feature a bariatric surgeon, someone working in addictions, people who are going to talk about behavioural treatments, effects of medication. There’s also a researcher coming from John Hopkins on how you make this implementable in the real world.

CAMH and the Canadian Obesity Network are co-sponsors of the conference.

>> Find out more about the Obesity and Mental Health Conference (pdf)

>> Also see: How food affects your mood

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