Weight Gain or Mental Illness: Which Came First?

While the medications used to treat mental illness typically promote weight gain, there are also other factors that come into play. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that over 80% of adults diagnosed with mental illness also face the battle of keeping to a healthy weight. Medications do cause weight gain by changing the body’s metabolic processes as well as the perception of being hungry or full. Weight gain is such a serious concern for those taking psychiatric medication that it is often the major reason for patients to stop taking their prescribed medicine, ending an otherwise effective treatment plan.

Obesity and Mental Health Bring Health Issues

Weight gain related to mental health prescription drugs brings more than obesity as a health issue to the table. Obesity among those with mental illness surprisingly contribute to a mortality rate that is almost 3x that of the general adult population. Weight gain and obesity can also lead to high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes, heart failure and a multitude of other ailments and complaints.

Mental Health Illness’ Contribution to Weight Gain

Many of the complex symptoms related to mental illness can directly or indirectly contribute to the process of gaining weight. For example, some symptoms of depression include fatigue, lack of interest or motivation; these affect their desire to exercise which promotes a slowed metabolism turning those unused calories into fat. Patients with impulse control tend to eat and drink large amounts where the extra calories are not burned off on a regular basis. Patients with social anxiety disorder may avoid exercise around others, or avoid eating nutritious foods in favor of the anonymous fast food drive through line. Others may eat to help themselves through painful thoughts and emotions.

Which Came First? Weight Gain or Mental Illness

Research studies by University College in London, England on weight gain and mental illness report that those people who had symptoms of mental illness at the start of the study were more likely than those without a mental illness to become overweight and obese over time. Obesity however did not significantly increase the risk for developing a mental health disorder.

Psychiatric Medications and Gaining Weight

The following medications with the highest potential for gaining weight with use:

  • Clozaril, Seroquel, and Zyprexa – antipsychotic medications that increase insulin resistance and lead to weight gain
  • Remeron – an antidepressant that is also used to help those who need to gain weight
  • Depakote – used in the treatment of bipolar disorder
  • Paxil – 25% of users may put on considerable weight especially when used for a year or more
  • Sinequan, Tofranil, Pamelor – older antidepressant medications which can cause short and long term weight gain
  • Nardil, Parnate, Marplan – MAOI’s which also can cause considerable gain in weight over time

Medication Specialist

Mental health disorders and weight gain may seem to go hand in hand, especially when certain psychiatric medications are prescribed. Working with a psychiatrist with decades of experience can help you live a full, satisfying and healthy life. Call the office today.


About Darvin Hege

Dr. Darvin Hege, MD, PC, is based in Atlanta, Georgia, and certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology, and the American Society of Addiction Medicine. He is an Emory Hospital residency trained psychiatrist who has been practicing psychiatry for more than 25 years. He maintains over 50 hours of AMA certified education each year to stay informed of advances in psychiatry.

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