Just over one in seven Scottish adults (16%) have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about their body image, according to a new poll by the Mental Health Foundation Scotland.
The YouGov online poll of 1012 Scottish adults aged 18 and above was commissioned by the charity to examine the impact of body image issues on mental health to the mark the theme of Mental Health Awareness Week 2019. (13 to 19 May 2019)
The poll – which was published as part of a report “Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies” - also found that just over on third of all Scottish adults said they have felt anxious (34%) because of their body image. And a quarter (25%) Scottish adults have felt “disgusted” because of their body image in the last year, while nearly a quarter (24%) said they had felt “shame.”
The poll found that body image issues affected women more than men, with 11% saying they have “deliberately hurt themselves” because of their body image, compared to 4% of men.
But the poll found that body image issues can also affect large numbers of men and could affect people throughout their lives. Over a quarter of Scottish men (28%) have felt depressed because of their body image. And just over a quarter of people (27%) aged 55 and above have said that their body image had a negative impact on their self-esteem.
The charity is demanding reform in relation to social media and advertising that is linked to worry about body image. The charity also gives advice and tips about how people can take individual action to protect themselves.
Julie Cameron, Head of Programmes at Mental Health Foundation Scotland said: “Our poll has uncovered that millions of adults across Scotland are struggling with concerns about their body image. For some people this is potentially very severe with large numbers of people saying they have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts and feelings.
“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 poll suggests that a worrying proportion of men have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies. Many people identified social media as an important factor causing them to worry about their body image and the majority of respondents felt the Government needed to take more action.”
Paul Browett (35) from Glasgow said he has struggled with his own body image and that the rise of social media and online advertising has helped to fuel his own insecurities.
He said: “I think the rise of social media, TV and celebrities have all created a pressure in society to aspire to a certain body. At times I’ve been unhappy with my body which has affected my confidence; I have found myself becoming jealous of others due to this and can result in me being sensitive or argumentative.
“I think society still has some way to go on how body image is perceived by others and ultimately how others react to someone’s body image. Being body conscious is not exclusive to women, yet when a man takes pride in his appearance, or has anxieties about his body, this is often met with a joke, sarcasm or a put down.”
Just over one fifth (21%) of all Scottish adults and nearly half (46%) of 18 to 24 year olds said images on social media had caused them to worry about their Body Image. And just over two fifths (41%) of 18 to 24 year olds said that images used in advertising had a similar impact.
MHF Scotland is now calling on the UK government and relevant industries to take action, including regulation of social media and more powers for the Advertising Standards Authority.
Julie Cameron said: “One of the most compelling insights from our survey was that 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.
“If left unregulated, advertising will continue to present unattainable idealised bodies as aspirational. This is harming the mental health of millions and can’t be allowed to continue.”
“This is why today we are calling on the UK Government to tackle the promotion of unhealthy or idealised body images as a specific part of its strategy in the Online Harms White Paper.
“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 proposed new independent regulator, which is already part of the government proposals.”