This week is Mental Health Awareness Week. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 is taking place from Monday 13 to Sunday 19 May 2019 and the theme is Body Image, how we think and feel about our bodies.
Over the next five days, people are encouraged to explore how we can create a culture where we talk about mental health in a positive, constructive and supportive way. This doesn’t have to be about sharing our deepest insecurities in order to connect with friends, family, strangers or colleagues: it is about ending the stigma attached to mental health. People don’t have to hide or suffer in silence anymore. The more we understand about the connection between wellbeing, life and work, and the more that people share their stories, the easier it becomes to talk, listen and understand.
‘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.
It’s a sensitive topic but one that all of us can relate to, whether it’s about us or someone we care about. Despite this shared understanding, it can be difficult to know what to say. In my younger years, I had insecurities with my body which triggered off sadness, eating disorder and loss of self-esteem. As I got older and grew with wisdom; I learned how to appreciate my ever-changing body and now carry it with pride.
The world has come a long way representing people especially women in more diverse and authentic ways. Survey shows that about 70% of women say they still do not feel represented in the body images they see daily. Many images displayed via many outlets (social media, television, fashion publications) continue to impose unrealistic beauty standards that present a narrow view of who we are, what we should look like, and what we can achieve. Lives are affected by these limitations, exclusions, and stereotypes, in ways both big and small. This in turns now impacts our health, relationships, opportunities in life and mental health.
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 have 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
- the 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.
‘What body image means for young people in the social media generation’
Teenage angst about the way we look exists in every generation and every parent wants to say to their child: “I understand what you’re going through.” But do we? When you look in the mirror, it can be hard to like the person looking back at you, unless you feel okay inside.
But that is what the younger generation experience on a daily basis. The need to be totally perfect is weakening the confidence that they need to have and has affected so many that some seek suicide as an option out.
What can we do to eliminate these signs?
Clearly, the 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 and our report highlights 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 – being more aware of the steps we can take for ourselves and others:
- 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.
- Spring-clean your apps on your smartphone.
- 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.
- Find the best way that works for you to stay active.
Listed are Useful Organisations to guidance:
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 9 am – 6 pm.
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 12 pm – 6 pm Mon – Fri and 4 pm – 8 pm weekends and bank holidays.
CALM: If you want emotional support as a man or for a man in your life then you can call CALM’s helpline on 0800 58 58 58. It is for men in the UK who are down or have hit a wall for any reason, who need to talk or find information and support. They’re open 5 pm-midnight, 365 days a year.
Maytree: If you are feeling suicidal or are having suicidal thoughts you can contact Maytree. Maytree have a house available for people at moments when they’re feeling suicidal. They offer a free 4 night, 5 day stay for adults, with the opportunity to be heard in complete confidence, in a caring, safe environment. You can contact them on 0207 263 7070.
Urgent professional help: If you are concerned that you are developing a mental health problem you should seek the advice and support of your GP as a matter of priority. If you are in distress and need immediate help and are unable to see a GP, you should visit your local A&E.
Also, click on the link for various publications on mental health and after-care.
I end by dedicating the song ‘BEAUTIFUL’ by Christina Aguilera to anyone suffering from Body Image
“You’re more than a Reflection – You are WHOLE”
The Renaissance Journey continues …
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Yours in love - The Renaissance Lady ©