Today sees the start of Mental Health Awareness Week, which is the UK’s national week to raise awareness of mental health and mental health problems and inspire action to promote the message of good mental health. Mental Health Awareness Week has been run by the Mental Health Foundation since 2001 (mentalhealth.org.uk). The Foundation exists to raise awareness of mental health issues and promote good mental health for all.
Each year a particular mental health issue is explored, and the theme for 2019 is ‘Body Image’. Mental health problems relating to Body Image have become increasingly common and perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised by that.
A survey of 4,500 adults, commissioned by the Foundation, found that 1/3 felt anxiety about their body image, and 1 in 8 had experienced suicidal thoughts as a result.
Mental Health Foundation chief executive Mark Rowland said there needs to be greater awareness of the issue. “Our survey indicates that millions of adults in the UK are struggling with concerns about their body image. For some people this is potentially very severe. Women, and particularly young women, are showing the highest rates of distress”. But he warned it was not just young people who were affected – one in five people aged over 55 and over said they had felt anxious because of body image.
The rise of Social Media as a factor in people’s lives and the increased amount of marketing we are all exposed to mean that all to often we see images of flawless ‘perfect’ humans and ‘photoshopped’ models. This is reinforced by magazines which tell us for example, that the answer is a new diet for that ‘beach body’, or cosmetic surgery. Many people in the survey identified social media as an important factor causing them to worry about their body image – and the Foundation believe more needs to be done by social media companies and the advertising industry to promote a diversity of body types
The result can be to leave people feeling inadequate or unhappy that they can’t achieve this unrealistic ideal, which is presented as normal. In some cases this can lead to ‘Body Dysmorphia’ where someone’s real or imagined physical flaws come to dominate their lives. Often these may appear insignificant or non existent to others, but to the person suffering with Body Dysmorphia, these ‘flaws’ become hugely significant and impact on their daily lives. Stress, social anxiety, depression, low self esteem and low confidence can all result from, or be made worse by an unhelpful and unrealistic body image. It can also trigger, or be a contributing factor to serious eating disorders such as Anorexia.
So, the focus on positive Body Image for this years Mental Health Awareness week is a welcome one, particularly for those of us working to promote good mental health for children and young people. The Mental Health Foundation website includes useful background information and ‘self help’ guides. Sharing a problem is often the first step to recovery, and a wide range of help and support, including private Counselling or Psychotherapy is available for anyone who finds their life limited by Body Image issues.