Behavioral Therapy Program Achieves Weight Loss for People with Mental Illness

Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S., Expert in depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, and mental illness
Dr. Gail L. Daumit

NARSAD Grantees Gail L. Daumit, M.D., M.H.S., Faith B. Dickerson, Ph.D., M.P.H., and Richard W. Goldberg, Ph.D., launched the first weight loss clinical trial to include people with serious mental illnesses. Project “ACHIEVE” was tailored especially for people with major mental illness such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and depression and results of the study, reported online in The New England Journal of Medicine, show that people with serious mental illnesses lose weight and can keep it off through a modified lifestyle intervention program.

Over 80 percent of people with serious mental illnesses are overweight or obese. Antipsychotic medications are known to increase appetite and cause weight gain and many patients also live a sedentary lifestyle and have poor nutritional habits.

“People with serious mental illnesses are commonly excluded from studies to help them help themselves about their weight,” said Dr. Daumit, of Johns Hopkins University, the study’s lead author. “We’re showing that serious mentally ill patients can make successful, sustained changes with proper interventions.”

ACHIEVE was based on lifestyle changes known to be effective in the general population, and was amended to account for cognitive and behavioral challenges present in mental illness. The study had almost 300 participants who used an average of 3 psychotropic medications each. Half were placed in a program focused on improving eating and exercise habits while the other half received no special training. Those in the intervention group lost an average of 7 pounds over the course of the study and continued to maintain the loss.

Read more in the Schizophrenia Research Forum sponsored by the Brain & Behavior Research Foundation

Read the study in New England Journal of Medicine

Article comments

You have to be careful with your pressure to have consumers lose weight. I have bipolar and am obese. Under the constant pressure to lose weight by others I all but quit eating. I developed rhabdomyeolysis and was hospitalized. I still have trouble eating but have not lost weight.
7 pounds is not much and can be part of normal weight fluctuation.

I'm glad someone is finally taking the lead on helping people with mental illnesses who have gained substantial weight because of medications and other factors. Some psychiatrists think the solutions is simple: eat less or eat more vegetables. There is more to it.

Agreed with Dana, Even I would like to contribute from my side to treat obesity which many peoples are facing now-a-days. Xenical or Orlistat is best solution on weight loss treatment. I have suggested to many of people and they got good experience with it.

After many years of being overweight or obese on meds for bipolar disorder, I started running and changed my diet for my mental health, not to lose weight. Ended up losing 30 pounds (and still going), going into full remission with the bipolar on fewer meds than ever before, and am now training for a half marathon and seeking employment after years of being on disability due to severe bipolar. Not saying it was the whole answer, but diet and exercise changes can do more than we can imagine...

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