Mental Health Awareness Week
21st May 2019
Last week was Mental Health Awareness Week. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation every year, it’s the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems, designed to inspire action and to promote the message of good mental health for all! The theme for 2019’s Mental Health Awareness Week is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.
What is ‘body image’?
‘Body image’ is a term that can be used to describe how we think and feel about our bodies. The way we think and feel about our bodies can impact us throughout our lives, affecting the way we feel about ourselves and our mental health and wellbeing. Having body image concerns is a relatively common experience and is not a mental health problem itself, however it can be a risk factor for mental health problems. Though feeling unsatisfied with our bodies and appearance is more common among young women, body image concerns are relevant from childhood through to later life. 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. On the other hand, body satisfaction has been linked to better overall wellbeing and fewer unhealthy dieting behaviours.
- Among teenagers, 37% felt upset and 31% felt ashamed in relation to their body image
- 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.
- One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.
What causes body image concerns?
Our environment and experiences can affect our body image, but this will be different for everyone. However, research suggests that body image can be influenced by relationships with family and friends; how our family and peers feel and speak about their bodies and appearance; and through exposure to images of idealized or unrealistic bodies seen in the media and on different social media platforms.
Tips to take for yourself or others
There are some actions that we can take to improve how we feel about our bodies and help us to protect, promote and maintain a positive body image.
- As social media can often promote idealised and unrealistic bodies, try spring cleaning the apps on your phone and notice the accounts you are following on social media and be mindful of how you feel about your own body and appearance when you look at them. Consider muting or unfollowing accounts that cause you to feel negatively about your body and encourage you to compare yourself to others unfavourably. Don’t forget to be considerate of the impact your own posts have on other people.
- When having a casual conversation, try to be more aware of the ways in which you speak about your own body and other people’s bodies. Consistently making small comments, such as ‘I feel fat today’, ‘They don’t have the body to wear that’ or ‘You look great, did you lose weight?’ may feel harmless in the moment but can make us feel worse about our bodies in the long run.
- Finding the best way to stay active, and one that works for you, can make us feel better about our bodies, encourage good moods and decrease stress.
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