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Monday, 20 May

Mental Health And The Body Image Effect

Body image

The Mental Health Foundation has found that 30% of all adults have felt so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope. That’s almost 1 in every 3 people.

However there is still a lack of much-needed research and understanding around the issue.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week: (May 13-19) the  Mental Health Foundation (MHF) will be publishing the results of a UK-wide survey on body image and mental health.

It will look at body image issues across a lifetime – including how it affects children and young people, adults and people in later life.

The survey results will also highlight how people can experience body image issues differently, including people of different ages, genders, ethnicities and sexualities.

A MHF spokesperson said: "We will use our research to continue campaigning for positive change and publish practical tools to help improve the nation’s relationship with their bodies. The good news is that we can tackle body image through what children are taught in schools, by the way we talk about our bodies on a daily basis and through policy change by governments across the UK.

 

Body image report - Executive Summary

‘Body image’ is a term that can be used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies. Our thoughts and feelings about our bodies can impact us throughout our lives, affecting, more generally, the way we feel about ourselves and our mental health and wellbeing.

 

How does body image affect mental health?

Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem in and of itself; however, it can be a risk factor for mental health problems. Research has found that higher body dissatisfaction is associated with a poorer quality of life, psychological distress and the risk of unhealthy eating behaviours and eating disorders.

Conversely, body satisfaction and appreciation has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours. Though feeling unsatisfied with our bodies and appearance is often more common among young women, body image concerns are relevant from childhood through to later life and affect both women and men.

 

What causes body image concerns?

The way in which our experiences and environment affect our body image will be different for everyone. However, overall, the research suggests that body image can be influenced by:

  • Our relationships with our family and friends.

  • How our family and peers feel and speak about bodies and appearance.

  • Exposure to images of idealised or unrealistic bodies through media or social media.

  • Pressure to look a certain way or to match an ‘ideal’ body type.

There are further issues relevant to body image and mental health that are specific to certain factors and experiences, such as:

  • Long-term health conditions.

  • Cultural differences around body ideals.

  • Gender and sexuality.

The above are often linked to other societal factors and discrimination.

 

New body image statistics

New online surveys were conducted by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March 2019 of 4,505 UK adults 18+ and 1,118 GB teenagers (aged 13-19).

The results highlighted that:

  • One in five adults (20%) felt shame, just over one third (34%) felt down or low and 19% felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.

  • Among teenagers, 37% felt upset, and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image.

  • Just over one third of adults said they had ever felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.

  • One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.

  • Just over one in five adults (21%) said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.

  • Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.

 

What can we do?

The report says action is needed to build and promote positive body image and support good mental health and wellbeing in relation to our bodies. Everyone has a right to feel comfortable and confident in their own bodies. The report has key recommendations for:

  • Effective regulation of how body image is portrayed.

  • The need for commitment from social media companies to play a key role in promoting body kindness.

  • Taking a public health approach to body image by training frontline health and education staff.

  • Individually being more aware of how we can take care of ourselves and others in relation to body image.

 

Tips for individuals

If your body image is a significant cause of stress, or if you’re being bullied about how your body looks, consider talking to a friend, a trusted adult or a health professional. 

Notice the people and accounts you’re following on social media and be mindful of how you feel about your own body and appearance when you look at them.

If you see an advert in a magazine, on television or online that you think presents an unhealthy body image as aspirational, you can complain to the Advertising Standards Authority. 

At home, parents and carers can lead by example, by modelling positive behaviour around body image, eating healthily and staying active.

In our daily lives, we can all be more aware of the ways in which we speak about our own and other people’s bodies in casual conversations with friends and family. 

 

You're more than a reflection

 

Priscila is a 24-year-old spoken word artist from London. She wrote this piece for the Mental Health Foundation because she experienced disordered eating when she was younger. That set a pattern around her a relationship to body image. She has had a constant battle with her body for years and even now, as a personal trainer and fitness instructor, this battle is still present.

 

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ThisWeekinFM is happy for any reader to send links or to copy and paste text  from any articles we run on the topic of mental health.

Samaritans: If you need someone to talk to then Samaritans are available on 116 123 (UK) for free, 24/7. They are there to talk to, listen and they won't judge or tell you what to do.

Mind: If you are looking for professional support then Mind can help you with their Infoline. They can find information for you on what support is available in your local area. You can call them on 0300 123 3393 (UK), they are available Mon - Fri 9am - 6pm.

Beat: If you want to speak to a trained eating disorder helpline support worker then you can call Beat's helpline on 0808 801 0711 (UK) they are open 365 days of the year 12pm - 6pm Mon - Fri and 4pm - 8pm weekends and bank holidays.

Picture: To download a full copy of the report 'Body image: How we think and feel about our bodies' - Click Here

 

Article written by Brian Shillibeer

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