Background: The prevalence of extreme obesity and the popularity of bariatric surgery have increased dramatically in recent years. Many surgery programs require that candidates undergo a preoperative psychological evaluation, but no consensus exists for guiding mental health professionals in the conduct of these evaluations.
Method: A survey was sent to bariatric surgeons, who were asked to distribute the surveys to the mental health professionals to whom they refer surgery candidates for preoperative evaluations. 194 respondents provided information on the assessment methods they use, which psychosocial domains are the focus of their evaluations, and what they consider to be contraindications to surgery. Responses to open-ended questions were coded for content.
Results: Most respondents reported using clinical interviews (98.5%), symptom inventories (68.6%), and objective personality/psychopathology tests (63.4%). A minority used tests of cognitive function (38.1%) and projective personality tests (3.6%). Over 90% of respondents listed mental health issues among the most important areas to assess. Similarly, 92.3% listed psychiatric issues as "clear contraindications" to surgery, but no specific disorder was listed by a majority of respondents. Issues related to informed consent and treatment adherence were the non-psychiatric domains most frequently listed as important areas to assess and as contraindications to surgery.
Conclusion: The assessment practices of mental health professionals who evaluate bariatric surgery candidates vary widely. No consensus is likely to emerge until large long-term studies identify consistent psychosocial predictors of poor postoperative outcomes.