MH Awareness Week - Body Image: Ask the Mental Health Foundation Anything! Watch
Victoria and Katherine will be answering all your niggling questions and coming onto The Student Room on Thursday 16th May from 3pm - 4:40pm to reply to any comments you have on what they've said.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (13th - 19th May), and here at The Student Room we are working with the Mental Health Foundation on their campaign around body image; how body image and perception can affect our mental health and daily lives.
There are so many reasons why we struggle with our body image, and most people will have felt the pressure to look a certain way at some point in their life. With social media and TV/Films showcasing some of the most attractive people in humankind beamed into our lives in an instance, it's no wonder that so many people find themselves comparing. Countries that are focused on consuming as much as we can, celebrity culture and wanting as much as possible find that they tend to far worse in terms of people's mental health.
So, with the Mental Health Foundation encouraging us to talk about our experiences, releasing new research and helping us be kinder to our bodies, we want you to ask them all your questions surrounding body image.
Maybe you want to know why this is such a problem in the Western world? Why do we constantly compare ourselves when the standards seem unattainable? Ask away!
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How can universities and students' unions help to break the stigma and get students talking to eachother about issues like this?
Victoria and Katherine form the MH foundation have said:
"There are lots of great anti-stigma resources available online, for example, organisations like See Me Scotland who have lots of resources and activities that encourage conversations about mental health in ways that are creative and accessible. Universities can foster and host these types of events.
It is also important that universities make sure they have supportive resources on Body Image available that are easily accessible and clearly signposted. A recent youth-led project on mental health and wellbeing has a great list of recommendations for creating educational environments that support good mental health.
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. Some further tips are available on the See Me website.
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. Anything can be used to get people together, and once you are in the same space you can have one of these conversations."
more research should be done on mental health and internet pornography. in my experience as well as a thousands of other men in the nofap and porn free reddit, quitting porn has had a tremendously positive impact in our lives
In relation to how body types shown in porn can affect people's body image, Victoria and Katherine form the MH Foundation have said:
"In our survey, we found that 8% of adults (9% of men and 7% of women) said that pornography had caused them to worry about their body image. This was highest among the 18-24 age group, 19% of whom said pornography had caused them to worry about their body image.
Other studies have found the more frequently porn is watched the more dissatisfied people feel with their body, particularly among men, and gay and bisexual men more than hetero men. This is thought to happen when people see the body types depicted in porn as not just a fantasy ideal but something they ‘should’ look like, and then compare their body own unfavourably to the ideal one. This process can also happen outside of porn, where people are constantly bombarded with messages that they should look one way or another. People in the LGBTQ+ community may be more susceptible to this, for example our survey found over half of adults identifying as gay, lesbian, bisexual or other felt depressed or anxious because of their body image and a third felt suicidal, compared to 33% and 11% respectively for those identifying as heterosexual.
Interestingly the type of body shown in porn does not need to be of a certain type or even realistic; it is the frequency with which that body is shown to be desirable that is associated with trying to look like it."
What would you say to someone who "doesn't want to bother anyone" by taking a GP appointment to talk about their Mental Health and get some help for it?
Victoria and Katherine from the MH Foundation said:
"If a friend is reluctant to reach out to GP or other professional for support, first try and figure out what’s going on for them emotionally. People often appreciate being understood more than being told what to do (even if it’s good advice) and that can make a huge difference to the way they feel. Be honest and tell them you are concerned and care about them, and that you’ve noticed they seem to be in pain. You’d like to help, but you’re not sure what to do.
Hopefully this will start a conversation where you can work out where they’re at. People want different things at different times and it might take them a while to build up to go to the GP. If it seems useful, during this conversation you can try asking why they don’t want to go to a GP for help. For instance it could be they don’t feel they are worthwhile and any attention is a waste of resources, or it could be they don’t trust doctors to help them, or that they are not in a place where they want to makes changes right now.
Last, ask what you can do for them right now. What would make their day a bit brighter? You can’t force them to do anything; however you can listen to what’s going on for them and buy them a cookie. Knowing you’re there for them and you understand might be enough of a boost to help your friend ask others for help."
Do you think there is a prejudice from GPs towards those with larger BMIs? Obviously ideally everyone's BMI would be in the healthy range but i've heard from others and experienced myself GPs attributing things to weight that have little or nothing to do with it. When i went to the doc.tor for MH issues one of the things they initially said was that i would be happier if i lost some weight. Am sure that is true but that wasnt going to magically fix anything and transpired i have bpd Have since changed to a GP that isnt fixated on weighing me constantly and am trying to lose some weight in my own time.
Victoria and Katherine have said:
"This is not uncommon. There are a couple of reviews of the qualitative research in this area that find some patients feel embarrassed, frustrated, or humiliated by exchanges with their healthcare providers about their weight, and feel that other health problems can be overlooked because of their weight. People who are overweight can also experience prejudice in other settings, like the workplace.
This unwarranted focus on size can be more of a problem in GP surgeries, where the pressure to see lots of people squeezes appointments to about 10 minutes long. Whereas a typical psychological assessment would last an hour, a GP must assess, diagnose and come up with a solution in less time than it takes to have a shower. This makes it easy to miss important details, and is compounded by the fact that GPs are physical health doctors with relatively little mental health training. As they are coming from a ‘medical model’ background, they will focus on physical causes of distress before others.
This can all be really frustrating. Yet for many, GPs are also a really important first point of contact for support with their mental health. At the Mental Health Foundation we have developed a guide to talking to your GP about mental health that gives tips on preparing for an appointment and finding the best GP for you."
What sort of treatment is available out there for MH, especially those with difficulties with body image? Would one be CBT type treatment and if so what might it entail?
Victoria and Katherine from the MH Foundation have said:
"There are many different types of treatment and support available for mental health problems, and the right approach will vary based on the type of difficulties you are experiencing, and your own individual preferences and characteristics.
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.
CBT is the most common form of psychological treatment available on the NHS. This follows the idea that how we feel is influenced by what we think and do; as it is easier to change thoughts and behaviour, we can affect our emotions by altering these instead. On the other hand, medications such as antidepressants, which can also be used to treat body image issues, work more directly on emotions and not so much on thoughts/behaviour.
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).
DBT uses a lot of CBT strategies, but focuses more on things you can do to manage strong emotions."
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 MH issues, and even highly educated people often seem to be less tolerant and patient of men with these problems. Is this the case, and if so what should be done about it?
Victoria and Katherine from the MH Foundation have 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.
This also plays into stereotypes around men and women more generally. Being concerned about your appearance is stereotypically viewed as ‘something women do’ rather than men, and suffering from anxiety and worry is again seen more as a ‘women’s issue’. This means unfortunately there is an expectation against men having mental health problems around their body, which can translate unfairly into disbelief and scorn when this view is challenged.
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."
Is the media glorifying extreme weights - i.e. anorexic and obesity - when they have the intention of simply having more body diversity?
Victoria and Katherine from the Mental Health Foundation have said:
"Reviews of the research that we identify in our report show that exposure to images in the media (which tend to present ‘thin ideal’ bodies for women and ‘muscular ideal’ bodies for men) have been linked to feelings of dissatisfaction with our bodies. Part of the problem may be presenting this one type of body as the standard of what it means to be attractive, and what it means to have value as a person. Encouraging advertisers to promote diversity (not just in weight and shape but in age, gender, ethnicity, disability etc.) can broaden what the ‘ideal’ body looks like to better fit the diversity we see in our daily lives, but this is only part of the solution, we also need to move away from the idea that our physical appearance determines our happiness, value, or self-worth.
The Advertising Standards Authority is the UK’s independent advertising regulator. Their role is to make sure ads across UK media stick to advertising rules. Part of their standards are that advertisers “ensure that models are not depicted in a way that makes them appear underweight or unhealthy” and that they should “ensure they don’t portray particular body types in an irresponsible manner, imply people can only be happy if they look a certain way, or present an unhealthy body image as aspirational”
If you see advertising which you feel presents an unhealthy body image as aspirational, you can make a complaint to the ASA here: https://www.asa.org.uk/make-a-complaint.html"
What can the media do to change the way they make people feel about their bodies, and do you think these changes will ever happen?
"We recommend that advertisers (both in more traditional media and social media) sign onto the Body Image Pledge from the Be Real campaign, which challenges advertisers to: reflect the diversity of the UK’s population, reflect reality by limiting photo-editing to technical corrections and promote health and well-being over weight and appearance.
We think these changes can definitely happen, anecdotally, I think we can see more companies embracing some of the actions in the body image pledge, and I think consumers are increasingly expecting them to as well. We also think effective regulation has a role to play, and in our report, we recommend that the ASA make greater use of its ability to pre-vet advertising before it reaches circulation rather than waiting for a complaint, especially for areas like cosmetic surgery companies and weight-loss products."
"In our YouGov survey, 40% of young people aged 13-19, and 22% of adults aged 18+ said that images on social media made them worry in relation to their body image. Reviews of the research which we identified in our report also find associations between social media use and body dissatisfaction.
We are recommending that social media companies improve their practice in terms of how their platforms are often used to propagate unhealthy body image through advertising, and the way that algorithms promote certain content. They should commit to ensuring that the content they promote to users in this way does not exacerbate body image concerns, and this should be enforced by a new independent regulator.
Compared to other media, we as users are in a unique position that we both consume and create social content. We can be more responsible consumers by thinking critically about what we see (e.g. ‘how many shots did it take to get that one great one?’) and by deliberately seeking out alternative views about body image (variety is our friend. Break those filter bubbles!). As creators, we can do more to show ourselves as we are and be transparent about when we set things up. Letting people in ‘behind the scenes’ can create feelings of fellowship more easily than out-of-shot ring lights.
Other things we can do as individuals, one thing we can try is being aware of how certain accounts, or apps, make us feel about our bodies. 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 positively. It is also important to be considerate of the impact of our own social media posts on others."