A recent online survey by Clinical Partners, a private clinic of psychiatrists, psychologists and psychotherapists, polled women who have, or have had, the controversial French PIP breast implants which are at the centre of a current scandal and health scare due to the use of industrial grade silicone by the manufacturers (see our recent blog).
With over 120 respondents in less than 24 hours, it revealed that nearly half of the women had missed work due to stress over having PIPs, nearly 8 out of 10 felt that their self-esteem and self-worth has been affected, two thirds are feeling severely depressed and anxious and 80% feel they will need the help of a therapist or counsellor. Added to that, nearly all (92%) are suffering from insomnia, with many needing to visit their GP for anxiety medication and sleeping pills.
Women confessed to being ‘in tears all the time’ and being ‘a complete mess’, with many reporting that they were unable to be intimate with their partners, unable to look after their children, unable to do or want to do their jobs and hating their own bodies.
The ten-question survey was devised by Richard Sherry, a counselling and clinical psychologist at Clinical Partners, who specialises in trauma and complex cases including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, anxiety and depression.
“Following a growing number of enquiries from women seeking support for the emotional issues they were facing following the PIP scare, I felt it was important to understand the greater impact this situation was creating for them and their families.”; said Richard.
He continued; “Having a specialist interest in the psychology of cosmetic surgery, I knew that breasts in themselves can be complicated embodiments of femininity, sexuality and maternal identity. So when things go wrong, as they have – rather catastrophically in this instance – it can trigger deep levels of anxiety and even depression, so it’s essential to see the whole picture: beyond just the practical dimension to its psychological ramifications.”
Highlights of the survey results included:
- Nearly half (48%) of women polled had missed work due to stress about PIPs
- Over 9 out of 10 (92%) said their sleep had been ‘severely’ (55%) or ‘considerably’ (37%) affected
- 71% said the experience had affected their relationship with their partners, with close to half (45%) saying ‘considerably’ and over a quarter (26%) ‘severely’. Less than 8% said ticked ‘Not at all’
- Over three quarters (77%) said their self-esteem and self-worth had been affected: 37% ‘considerably’ and 40% ‘severely’
- Virtually all (96%) respondents felt depressed and anxious, with over 2/3 (68%) of women affected ‘severely’ and 28% ‘considerably'. Only 5% said ‘a little’ or ‘not at all’ (0.9%)
- More than 8 out of 10 (83%) feel their body image has been affected
- A third (33%) have already seen a doctor or therapist to help with the emotional distress of having PIPs, and 80% feel they will need psychological support in the future regarding this issue
“The comments we received in this survey really highlight the severe levels of distress being felt by those affected. It is important to foster communities of support, and it behoves health professionals to address the emotional repercussions of this situation as urgently as the physical”; concluded Mr Sherry.
The final question in their survey asked: “please tell us about the impact this has had on you and your family”. This resulted in over 100 distressing responses, a handful of which are detailed below:
“I have 4 children and day to day activities are extremely hard work at present, I just cannot think of anything else - my children have said ‘mummy, you are so moody’ and that makes me cry more as this is affecting my children. I was so proud of actually having boobs for once in my life and could not stop looking at them but now I cannot even look in a mirror anymore. I feel ashamed I wanted something so badly in my life and it’s gone so wrong and I have put my health at risk and I have kids that need me”
“I think about PIP implants from the minute I wake till the minute I go to sleep if I get any sleep at all. My family are suffering (because) this is all I think about. I am becoming more depressed as each day goes by.”
“I cannot focus on anything & I am in a constant state of anxiety. I cannot be intimate with my husband as I am so afraid of him touching my breasts & the PIP implants being harmed as a result. I look at myself in the bathroom mirror & I hate the sight of my breasts. The worry never leaves me.”
“I have had to miss work due to insomnia and anxiety. I have been to the GP 3 times in 4 weeks for help, referral and night sedation. I am constantly terrified about the pains I get…as no one is helping us. I have become tearful and withdrawn and non communicative with my family.”
We asked Consultant Psychologist Dr. Eileen Bradbury, who specialises and lectures in the psychological consequences of cosmetic procedures and who works directly with many cosmetic and plastic surgeons for her thoughts on the impact this health scare could have on those women affected.
“Women seeking implants are often vulnerable psychologically, with a higher than average incidence of pre-operative psychological and psychiatric problems”; she warned. “They are already very focussed on their bodies as a measure of self-worth. Breast augmentation can improve their body confidence, but if anything goes wrong then they are particularly vulnerable to distress. They experience shame, guilt, anger and self-doubt when things go wrong, they focus even more intently on their bodies.”
“This survey and the accompanying quotes show just how devastating recent news regarding PIPs have been for them, the psychological damage has been intense. Women in this situation need psychological help and compassionate action from those who inserted the implants, it is entirely beside the point to say that implants are not linked to cancer, they have created feelings of invasive contamination.”
Eileen advises that anyone seeking breast augmentation should “take their time, seek pre-operative counselling and ensure that they do not approach rogue operators and clinics”. And if they can do without implants, do so. “Buy a good bra and a great dress!”; recommends Dr. Bradbury.
With much debate raging over the responsibility for removal and replacement of PIP implants, along with who foots the bill; have the clinics involved or government regulators even considered the mental health of the women who have discovered they were recipients of these rogue products. Should therapy be being provided along with further surgery and who should foot that bill?