One in eight UK adults have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about body image, according to new research for Mental Health Awareness Week
The Mental Health Foundation survey also found that just over a third of UK adults have felt “disgusted” because of their body image, and 20% said they had felt shame because of their body image in the last year.
The charity commissioned the survey of 4,505 UK adults to mark the launch of Mental Health Awareness Week, which has a theme this year of body image.
Body image issues have been shown to affect adult UK women more than men. Survey data show 10% of women saying they have self-harmed or have deliberately hurt themselves because of their body image, compared to 4% of men. But men are also affected by body image. 25% of men surveyed said they felt depressed because of concerns about their body image.
It was also clear that body image issues affect people throughout their lives. 20% of men and women surveyed aged 55 and above also said they have felt anxious because of their body image.
Mental Health Foundation is demanding social media and advertising reform due to its links to worry about body image and is also providing advice on how people can take action to protect themselves.
“Our survey indicates that millions of adults in the UK are struggling with concerns about their body image. For some people this is potentially very severe, with large numbers saying they have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts and feelings,” Mental Health Foundation Chief Executive Mark Rowland said.
“Women, and particularly young women, are showing the highest rates of distress. Significant numbers have felt feelings of disgust and shame or changed their behaviour to avoid situations that make them reflect negatively about their bodies.
“But body image issues can affect anyone and at any stage in life. Our research suggests that a worrying proportion of men have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies.
Just over 22% of all UK adults and almost half of 18-24 year olds said images on social media had caused them to worry about their body image and the majority of adults surveyed think the UK Government needs to do more to protect the public from the presentation or use of unhealthy body images in advertising and social media.
Because of this, the Foundation is calling on the UK Government and relevant industries to take action, including regulation of social media and more powers for the Advertising Standards Authority.
Mr Rowland said: “Our survey underscores how commercial, social media and advertising pressures on body image are contributing to mental health problems for millions of people. This social harm has been allowed to develop largely unchecked. While there have been some positive initiatives, social media companies have frequently been unwilling to take the necessary steps to protect their users from harmful content.
“That is why today we are calling on the UK Government to tackle the promotion of unhealthy or idealised body image images as a specific part of its policy in this area.
“New codes of practice should include an expectation that social media companies must take practical steps to ensure that the content they promote does not exacerbate body image concerns.
“This could be enforced by the new independent regulator, which is already part of the Government proposals contained in the Online Harms White Paper.”
Read the full report: Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies.
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