Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13-19 May 2019. The theme this year is Body Image – how we think and feel about our bodies.
‘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.
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.
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. 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.
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:
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
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.
New body image statistics
New online surveys were conducted by the Mental Health Foundation with YouGov in March 2019 of 4,505 UK adults 18+ and 1,118 GB teenagers (aged 13-19). The 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.
Just over one third of adults said they had ever felt anxious (34%) or depressed (35%) because of their body image.
One in eight (13%) adults experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image.
Just over one in five adults (21%) said images used in advertising had caused them to worry about their body image.
Just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers said images on social media caused them to worry about their body image.
What can we do?
Clearly 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.
Effective regulation of how body image is portrayed
The Online Harms White Paper should address harms relating to the promotion of unhelpful or idealised body image online, beyond content related to eating disorders. An improved practice on how social media platforms promote unhealthy imaging should be enforced by the new independent regulator.
The Advertising Standards Authority should consider pre-vetting high-reach broadcast adverts from high-risk industries – such as cosmetic surgery companies and weight-loss products and services – to ensure all advertising abides by its codes. It should also make greater use of its ability to proactively instigate investigations.
Industry responsibility to promote body kindness
Social media companies should sign the Be Real Campaign’s Body Image Pledge and investigate new ways of using their platforms to promote positive body image and to ensure that a diversity of body types is presented positively to their users.
Social media companies should have clear systems for users to report bullying and discrimination and targets for action to be taken. They should give users greater control over the content they see in an accessible way.
Public health and education approaches to body image
Training for frontline health practitioners and the early years childcare workforce should include information about how parents and carers can, from a very early age, positively influence their children’s feelings about their bodies through their behaviours and attitudes.
Children and adults in distress should receive fast and empathetic support when they need it, regardless of where they live in the country.
Public campaigns on nutrition and obesity should avoid the potential to create stigma and indirectly contribute to appearance-based bullying. They should focus on healthy eating and exercise for all members of the population, regardless of weight.
A co-produced body image and media literacy toolkit should be a compulsory element of what children learn in schools. This should include the development of a charter for achieving a healthy and positive body image.
Tips for individuals
Individually being 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 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.
From 13-19 May The Mental Health Foundation will be running a body image challenge.
It’s easy to take part and they would love to have your support.
Tag @harmlessUK, @tomorrowprojectUK @mentalhealthfoundation on Instagram and Facebook.
@LifevsSuicide @mentalhealth on Twitter.
What a wonderful way to remind ourselves to love the skin we are in.
We can’t wait to see your photos
The Harmless team x
When staff volunteered to open Plymouth’s central library for two-and-a-half hours last Christmas Day, they thought it might give a few homeless residents somewhere warm and welcoming to go.
Instead, explains librarian Mandy McDonald, they were taken by surprise. People of all ages came to the library to enjoy free mince pies, biscuits and hot drinks, as well as a festive film showing. One family even brought some of their Christmas presents to open. “We had a massive response,” says McDonald. “There were people who just wanted to come and have some company, or use our computers to contact family.” That included one man living in temporary accommodation who used the library systems to get in touch with his son, to whom he hadn’t spoken for some time.
“It’s about health and wellbeing,” says McDonald. “We helped to combat loneliness on Christmas Day.” The event cost nothing “apart from a little bit of electricity”: it was run by volunteers, including McDonald’s own teenage son, and local residents and businesses donated food, clothing and toiletries. “A lot of volunteers, me included, felt it was in the spirit of Christmas,” she says. “It was humbling.” The library will open again this year, for slightly longer – and with more party games.
Libraries up and down the UK may have been financially squeezed, closed or forced to rely on volunteers, but they are fighting back and asserting their vital role in local communities. National Libraries Week, from 8-13 October, focuses on how libraries benefit wellbeing. That’s fitting, given that World Mental Health Day this year falls in the middle of the week, on 10 October.
In Rhoose, near Barry, the community-run library is offering a free mindfulness taster session on Friday 12 October. In Blackpool, residents can sample salsa, Pilates and story time for adults, while libraries in, among other places, Wolverhampton and Northumbria are providing wellbeing and health checks. And on Monday, Leeds central library hosted a performanceby the Giving Voice choir for adults with neurological conditions and their carers.
Meanwhile, Oldham Library, which last year became the first public library to offer a free Comic Con event, has been able to use interest in comics to get young people talking about their mental health. The Comics and Cosplay: Caring forYoung Minds project was funded by Carnegie UK and the Wellcome Trust. “We invited young people in Oldham to watch a performance and take part in a workshop in which they explored the issues affecting their mental health,” explains senior library officer Victoria Varley.
These discussions, in which more than 100 young people took part, were then documented by writer Rachael Smith and illustrator Jacob Phillips, who produced a graphic novel called Jack & Lucy. “The young people told us that sharing their stories had a really positive effect on their wellbeing, and the graphic novel also provides a unique resource for young people struggling with the same issues and the people supporting them,” says Varley. The novel was launched at the second Oldham Comic Con, held in the library in May, and organised in partnership with Dennis Whittle, who runs a comic shop in the town.
Until recently, there hasn’t been a lot of evidence to back up the feeling that libraries support health and wellbeing, but that is starting to change. Nearly every library in the country runs regular rhyme time sessions for parents and under-fives. The sessions are fun for children, and help with language development, socialisation and empathy.
New research has also highlighted the positive effect rhyme times have on the mental health and wellbeing of mothers. A recent research project run by consultants from Shared Intelligence and Essex Libraries, funded by Arts Council England, has demonstrated that sharing rhymes in a group in a library gives mums an instant mood boost.
Synchronising movements produces higher levels of the maternal dopamine associated with mood and pleasure and stronger parent-child bonding. Row Row Row Your Boat is a particularly good song for this, with parents and children holding hands and rocking back and forth.
“The research saw a very noticeable improvement in mothers’ moods immediately after rhyme time – with the percentage describing themselves as ‘very happy’ more than doubling from 25% to 59% in the space of 30 minutes,” says Sarah Mears, programmes manager at Libraries Connected, the membership organisation for public libraries in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. It’s about more than just singing: the researchers found mothers’ moods improved by the interaction with other like-minded parents, which reduced loneliness, boredom and stress, while adding structure to the day helped with self-motivation and promoted feelings of achievement through the simple act of getting to the session.
Libraries are good for our health. One research project from 2015 showed that not only were library users more satisfied with their lives than non-library users, being a regular library user was also estimated to save the NHS just under £30m a year. Those are big claims. But if they help prove the value of libraries, and prevent the closure of any more, that will be a huge benefit for all our wellbeing.
Science Has Your Back, Introverts: New Research Says Spending Time Alone is the Best Way to Rest
As temperatures drop, it’s only natural to want to take a load off and curl up with a good book.
Now, science shows that you’re perfectly justified in skipping that holiday party to do just that: read your book. Alone.
A research collective out of Durham University, alongside the BBC, recently conducted a large-scale study called The Rest Test. They questioned 18,000 people in 134 different countries to come up with a definitive list of activities people consider restful, as well as whether rest impacts a person’s health and well-being.
The top ten most popular rest activities were:
- Reading (60 percent)
- Being in nature (53 percent)
- Spending time alone (52 percent)
- Listening to music (41 percent)
- Doing nothing in particular (40 percent) (my favorite, and one you could also describe as “Puttering”)
- Walking (38 percent)
- Taking a bath or shower (37 percent)
- Daydreaming (37 percent)
- Watching TV (36 percent)
- Meditating or practicing mindfulness (25 percent)
The researchers highlighted the trend of solitude, saying, “It’s interesting to note that social activities including seeing friends and family, or drinking socially, placed lower in the rankings. It’s also not just introverts who rate being alone as a restful activity. Extroverts also value time spent alone, and voted this pastime as more restful than being in the company of other people.”
In fact, a new study out of Finland shows that both introverts and extroverts find socializing draining. The article, titled “Happy Now, Tired Later? Extraverted and Conscientious Behavior Are Related to Immediate Mood Gains, but to Later Fatigue” says that while extroverts report feeling energized right after time socializing, three hours later they feel depleted.
This makes sense, given the amount of energy and focus it takes to spend time with others. You may not notice it in the moment, but your body and mind register the fact that not only are you managing the social anxiety of hanging out by the crab dip alone until someone talks to you, but once they do, you’re tracking that person’s words, their facial cues, the environment (i.e. a crowded bar or restaurant), how your conversation could impact social dynamics at the office, and whether your significant other is getting restless and wanting to leave yet, all at the same time.
It’s no wonder you’d need a break after all that.
According to The Rest Test, a full 68 percent of people (both introverts and extroverts) say they want more rest. The average amount people said they’d gotten the previous day was 3 hours, yet the amount linked to a high sense of well-being is 5-6 hours.
In other words, we should all probably be resting twice as much as we are now.
This makes sense now more than any other time of the year. The end of autumn and beginning of winter is a natural time of rest. Nature itself slows down, gets quiet, prepares for the cold and the dark ahead.
It’s the perfect time to hibernate. To become introspective and reflect on all the year has brought us, both good and bad. To allow ourselves the space and time to simply be, instead of do.
But in order to get that rest that can be so healing, we need to stop feeling guilty for resting in the first place. We’ve got to internalize what this study shows us: that reading a book, or puttering around the house, or taking a nice long bath, or prioritizing a walk alone over a “mandatory” family outing, is more than just a nice activity–it’s an act of self-care that is critical to our physical and mental health.