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Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

How does body image affect mental health?

Body image issues can affect all of us at any age. 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.

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 factors including:

  • Our relations with our family and friends.
  • How are 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.
  • Long-term health conditions.


New body image statistics

New online surveys were conduction by the Mental health Foundation in March 2019 and 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 and just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.

Tips for individuals

Individually we can be more aware of 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 of 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 TV 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.


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