Body image Q&A for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

by Hayley Pearce | 15 May 2019

TSR is running a Q&A with the Mental Health Foundation on body image

To mark Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 (13-19 May), TSR invited the Mental Health Foundation, which hosts the event, to answer the community’s questions on body image.

As this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week theme, body image refers to “how we think and feel about our bodies” according to MHF’s website.

Victoria and Katherine from MHF are coming over to TSR to answer your questions on this thread tomorrow, Thursday 16 May, from 3pm until 4.30pm.

Below are their summarised answers to some of the questions posted so far, as well as a bonus question from TSR.

TSR member chelseadagg3r asked: “How can universities and students' unions help to break the stigma and get students talking to each other about issues like body image?”

Victoria mentioned anti-stigma resources online, such as those offered by See Me Scotland, events, creating educational environments that are good for mental health.

She added: “On an individual level, we all have a role to play by challenging stigma where we see it, and by being mindful of the language we use, avoiding reinforcing negative stereotypes of those with mental illness and supporting those with a mental health issue in a non-judgemental way.

“There is no shortage of ways students can help break stigma through starting their own conversations. Tap into your creativity and tailor your activities to what best suits you and your campus, such as sit-ins, curriculum changes, workshops, meme placards, guerrilla stickers, pop-up yoga, craftivism, potluck lunches, naked gingerbread men, etc.”

BurstingBubbles asked: “What sort of treatment is available out there for mental health, especially those with difficulties with body image? Would one be CBT type treatment and if so what might it entail?”

Katherine said: “In terms of body image concerns, a recent systematic review found support for psychological interventions such as dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for helping with body image.

“Another recent review found support for techniques that address the role of cognition (thoughts) in body image, and that training people to be more aware of the relationships between their thoughts, feelings, and behaviour and remind them that appearance does not determine self-worth.”

She added: “A common CBT strategy is a ‘thought challenge’. We have thoughts all the time, but rarely sit down and look at them to see if they are true; we just accept them. You might take the thought ‘my nose is ugly’, rate how true you think it is, weigh up the evidence for and against this thought, then see how true you believe it is afterwards.

“Other strategies involve helping you do things you want to, but currently can’t. For instance if you avoid going to changing rooms because you don’t like seeing yourself in the mirror, you and your therapist can make a plan to build up to going and trying on new clothes. Often doing the feared thing is not as bad as it is in your mind (those pesky thoughts again).”

An anonymous member said: “Do you think men are under-represented when it comes to tackling body image issues? It seems to be more socially acceptable to mock men on this basis, to be less tolerant of those men with these and other mental health issues."

Katherine said: “Body image concerns are definitely relevant for men. In our survey, 25% of adult men said they had felt depressed because of their body image.

Reviews of the research show that men are susceptible to images in the media that depict ‘ideal’ bodies much in the same way that women are, though the specific pressures for how they ‘should’ look differ for women and men.”

She added: “It is therefore really important to address stigma around mental health problems, and there are organisations working to do this specifically for men. For example, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) has campaigns, resources, and helplines to tackle stigma and support men’s mental health. They also have a student programme designed specifically for university campuses. Another example is the Men’s Health Forum which focuses on all aspect of men’s health, including body image and mental health.”

And we asked: “When the pressure to look a certain way is part of our everyday life and embedded into our culture, how can we rise above it?”

Victoria said: “It’s definitely difficult, and that is part of why we are calling for action by government and industry to make changes that will start to shift attitudes toward body image on a societal level.

She also gave the following tips to help us make a start as individuals:

  • If your body image is a significant cause of stress, or you’re being bullied about how your body looks, reach out to a friend, trusted adult or professional for support
  • “Spring-clean your social media – be aware of how certain accounts you follow, or apps you use make you feel about your body. If certain accounts make you feel badly about yourself or your body, consider unfollowing them, and instead focus on those accounts that you find interesting and that make you feel positive.
  • Be considerate of the impact of your own social media posts on others, and be mindful of the ways that we speak about our own, and other people’s bodies in our conversations with friends and family
  • Find the best way that works for you to stay active and focus on the benefits it can provide in terms of improving mood and decreasing stress, but don’t overdo it. The best exercise is the one you actually enjoy!
  • Don’t make everything about your body. The more meaningful things you have in your life, like hobbies and friendships, the less likely it is that you will be preoccupied with your body. Your brain can only concentrate on a few things at a time, so make sure they are things you enjoy!

Head over to this thread tomorrow, Thursday 16 May to read the rest of the questions and answers from Victoria and Katherine from MHF, and to ask your own questions.

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