May 13th to 19th 2019 is Mental Health Awareness Week, and initiative set up by the Mental Health Foundation to put mental health on the agenda.
This year, the theme is 'Body Image', which examines how the way we think and feel about our bodies can impact on our mental health.
Having concerns about the way we look does not in itself constitute a mental health problem, but having a high level of dissatisfaction and even anxiety about our outward appearance can lead to a poorer quality of life and psychological distress. This can impact on a person's ability to function and form or maintain meaningful relationships with others. It can also prevent a sufferer from taking part in enjoyable, healthy activities which can then have an impact on physical health too.
Conversely, having a higher level of body satisfaction and self-appreciation can be linked to an overall sense of wellbeing and healthier behaviours such as taking part in group exercise and eating healthier foods. Although body dissatisfaction has traditionally been thought of as a specifically female problem, more and more men are carrying body images problems into their adulthood and an increasing number of men and boys are being diagnosed with eating disorders.
Some of the causes of body image problems include:
- disfunctional relationships with family and friends
- how people around us speak about different body shapes and sizes (including media)
- exposure to unrealistic or idealised images of bodies in the media or social media
- cultural or social pressure to look a certain way
- mental and physical health conditions
- gender and sexuality concerns
- changes in our own bodies during puberty, pregnancy or menopause
How common are body image problems?
A studyconducted by the Mental Health Foundation in March 2019 found that 1 in 5 adults has felt shame about their body in the past year and a further 1 in 5 felt disgusted by their own body. As many as 1 in 8 adults had experienced suicidal thoughts in relation to their body. Just over a third said their body caused them to feel low from time to time. Amongst teenagers, just over two thirds said that they felt either upset or ashamed by their own body. 1 in 5 people said that images on social media had caused them to worry about their body image.
Clearly this is a big probem in the modern world!
What can we do?
Effective regulation about what images can be portrayed as aspirational or normal could give a more balanced view of what a healthy body should look like.
See the Online Harms White Paper for further information about current proposals
The Advertising Standards Authority has a responsiblity to consider the harmful effects of any images that are promoted in marketing, especially those relating to cosmetic surgery, fashion, weight-loss products and those aimed at young people
Promoting a culture of kindness will foster a more tolerant view of less than 'traditionally perfect' shapes
Culture changes are difficult and can take generations, but we all have a role to play in thinking about how we speak about other people and ensuring we encourage empathy and tolerance to those around us. We should consider not only weight, but also height, proportions, skin tone and hair colour, all of which can make people feel different and less valued by society.
Social media giants can take more responsiblity in deleting posts that encourage hate and discrimination against those who do not conform to traditional social norms.
Focussing on health and strength rather than shape and size will reduce the focus on outward appearance in favour of capability
Parents, teachers and healthcare professionals have to be particularly careful in choosing their language carefully when discussing weight and body issues, especially when trying to address obesity issues in young people. Emphasis should be around health and fitness, not shape and size. Careless use of vocabulary can stay with a young person and cause them to obsess about imperfections.
Taking a public health approach to body image, especially in education and frontline health professionals
Parents and healthcare professionals need to be trained in how to deal with body image concerns in young people, promoting postiive underpinning and support rather than criticism and negativity
Individually taking responsibility for educating ourselves about what a healthy body is and striving to be the best that we can be without comparing ourselves to others
- Speak to a medical professional about what a healthy weight is and ask them about anything you may be concerned is an underlying health problem.
- Stay active and learn to enjoy outdoor pursuits which enable you to benefit from fresh air and moderate exercise.
- Surround yourself with people to build you up and make you feel good about yourself, rather than people who belittle you or make you feel worth less.
- Delete any apps that contain advice or images that make you feel less than adequate. Notice how what you are viewing online makes you feel about yourself. If it's anything less than great, don't view that content anymore. If you see an unhealthy body image used in an aspirational way to promote something, contact the Advertising Standards Authority and complain.
- If you see or hear someone belittling someone because of the way they look, don't let it go unchallenged. Try to encourage anyone making disparaging remarks to consider the feelings of the other person and what additional challenges they may be facing. Encourage them to support others rather than trying to undermine their confidence,
- Be positive to and about someone who seems to lack confidence in their body. Try to avoid referring to their differences and make them feel as though they fit in. Show them friendship and kindness and help them to realise that it's personality that counts in any relationship more than how people look.
- Keep in mind that we all get older and outward aging is inevitable but personality and love keeping shining. A wrinkled smile is always more beautiful than a flawless frown.
- Parents and friends can lead by example and try not to tempt someone who is struggling to become healthier away from their plan, but ultimately we all need to find the inner strength to take action to make ourselves healthier and in control of our own personal wellbeing.
- It's very easy to blame others for how we feel about our bodies, and sometimes this may be an influencing factor, but only we can change the way we feel about ourselves and how we see our bodies. If support is needed to recognise the positive things about our bodies, counselling is a useful tool to guide our focus and help us to feel differently about our perceived imperfections
- Be kind to yourself. Focus on your general physical and mental wellbeing
Mental health is intrinsically linked to physical health and much research has been carried out into how people can improve their wellbeing. A good diet, regular exercise and avoiding artificial stimulants are of course on the list, but we aso need to consider how relaxation, talking about feelings, a sense of community and recreation as important in maintaining a healthy and balanced lifestyle can help to reduce stress.
If you have anxiety or depression because of body issues and you are unable to manage your conidition using self-care techniques, counselling can help.
Contact CCC to book an initial assessment with a qualified and experienced professional. Don't suffer in silence!
Call our nearest reception or complete the online form
Peterborough 01733 553166 Hunts and Cambs 01223 233047