Anxiety, Depression and Obesity

What are anxiety and depression?

Anxiety and depression are two reasonably common mental health conditions. 13% of Australians have an anxiety related condition and 10% have depression or feelings of depression1.

Anxiety is common in new or challenging situations, and everyone experiences it from time to time. However, for people with an anxiety disorder, these anxious thoughts can become severe and can interrupt their daily life2.

Anxiety disorders can include Generalised Anxiety Disorder, specific phobias, panic disorder, Agoraphobia, Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety disorder3.

Although everyone feels sad every so often, depression is a serious mental health condition where a feeling of sadness and emptiness lasts for a long period. Depression can affect every facet of your daily life.

How is obesity linked to depression and anxiety?

There are many links between obesity, depression, and anxiety. If you have obesity, you’re more likely to become depressed. People with depression are more likely to become obese4. It’s believed between 20% and 60% of persons with obesity suffer from a psychiatric illness5.

People with obesity face stigma in all areas of life, from education to personal relationships to healthcare6.

This discrimination affects the confidence you have in your abilities and your self-worth. It can lead to loneliness7, lower self-esteem, depression, and anxiety8.

What are the causes of depression and anxiety?

Mental health conditions like depression and anxiety are caused by a range of factors. Genes can play a part, as can the way the brain responds to stress and emotions.

A person is more likely to develop depression if they’ve experienced several stressful life events9. These life events can also act as a trigger for an anxiety disorder.

The way a person thinks, such as if they dwell on negative thoughts, worry excessively and have difficulty accepting uncertainty, may also increase the likelihood of them developing a mental health condition linked to depression or anxiety10.

What are the complications of anxiety and depression?

Having poor mental health impacts every aspect of life. It impacts on day-to-day functioning, on relationships and general happiness.

Unfortunately, many mental health conditions are also linked to several other diseases, including heart disease and cancer11. This can affect your quality of life and even your life expectancy.

The more severe your depression or anxiety is, the higher your chances are of having various chronic diseases, particularly if you’re overweight or obese12.

One study found men with obesity and depression had 7.6 times the risk of developing diabetes and 6.7 times the risk of developing high blood pressure13.

How can you manage depression and anxiety?

If you are experiencing depression and/or anxiety, it’s important to seek help. Speak to your GP about getting a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

If you’re embarking on a weight loss treatment, it’s important that you also work on your mental health at the same time14.

Treatment options

1 ABS 2019. National Health Survey, 2017–18. ABS cat. no. 4324.0.55.001.

2 Andrews, G., Creamer, M., Crino, R., Hunt, C., Lampe, L., & Page, A. (2003). The treatment of anxiety disorders: Clinician guides and patient manuals (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

3 Australian Psychological Society Anxiety fact sheet Available at Accessed December 2021

4 National Health and Medical Research Council (2013). Clinical practice guidelines for the management of overweight and obesity in adults, adolescents and children in Australia. Available at, accessed September 2019.

5 Sarwer DB, Polonsky HM. The Psychosocial Burden of Obesity. Endocrinol Metab Clin North Am. 2016;45(3):677-688. doi:10.1016/j.ecl.2016.04.016

6 Puhl RM, Heuer CA. Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. Am J Public Health. 2010;100(6):1019-1028. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.159491

7 Jung FU, Luck-Sikorski C. Overweight and Lonely? A Representative Study on Loneliness in Obese People and Its Determinants. Obes Facts. 2019;12(4):440-447. doi:10.1159/000500095

8 Friedman KE, Reichmann SK, Costanzo PR, Zelli A, Ashmore JA, Musante GJ. Weight stigmatization and ideological beliefs: relation to psychological functioning in obese adults. Obes Res. 2005;13(5):907-916. doi:10.1038/oby.2005.105

9 Risch, N., Herrell, R., Lehner, T., & et al. (2009). Interaction between the serotonin transporter gene (5-httlpr), stressful life events, and risk of depression: A meta-analysis. JAMA, 301(23), 2462-2471. doi:

10 Australian Psychological Society Depression fact sheet Available at Accessed December 2021.

11 Lawrence D, Hancock K & Kisely S 2013. The gap in life expectancy from preventable physical illness in psychiatric patients in Western Australia: retrospective analysis of population based registers. British Medical Journal 346:f2539.

12 Niles AN, Dour HJ, Stanton AL, et al. Anxiety and depressive symptoms and medical illness among adults with anxiety disorders. J Psychosom Res. 2015;78(2):109-115. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2014.11.018

13 Haregu TN, Lee JT, Oldenburg B, Armstrong G. Comorbid Depression and Obesity: Correlates and Synergistic Association With Noncommunicable Diseases Among Australian Men. Prev Chronic Dis 2020;17:190420.

14 Karasu S, Psychotherapy-Lite:Obesity and the Role of the Mental Health Practitioner American Journal of Psychotherapy2013 67:1, 3-22