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Worryingly high numbers of people in the LGBTQIA+ community have experienced body-image anxiety, a new online survey from the Mental Health Foundation has revealed. Of all the groups surveyed in the UK, the lesbian, gay and bisexual community appears to be the one most likely to be affected in this way.
Nearly four in ten (39%) of people who identified as bisexual and almost a quarter (23%) of people who identified as gay or lesbian have experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings because of concerns about their body image. This compares to around one in ten (11%) of heterosexuals.
Almost half (45%) of people who identified as bisexual and nearly three in ten (29%) people who identified as gay or lesbian have felt “disgusted” because of their body image over the last year.
The survey was commissioned to mark Mental Health Awareness Week from 13 to 19 May, which this year has the theme of body image.
Other survey findings show that 29% of bisexuals surveyed have deliberately hurt themselves because of their body image, as have 15% of gay men and lesbians.
59% of bisexuals and 46% of gay men or lesbians felt “anxious” because of their body image.
66% of bisexuals have felt “depressed” because of their body image, as have 45% of gay men and lesbians.
Research has found that gay men are more likely than their heterosexual counterparts to experience a desire to be thin, and this can sometimes manifest itself in higher levels of eating disorder symptoms. Studies focused on gay and bisexual men have found a connection between higher levels of body dissatisfaction, and increased likelihood of experiencing depressive symptoms and increased sexual anxiety and poorer sexual performance.
Toni Giugliano, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Mental Health Foundation said:
“Millions of adults across the UK are struggling with concerns about their body image, but of all the groups surveyed, the LGBTQIA+ community is most likely to be affected. Large numbers of LGBTQIA+ people have said they have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts and feelings or have felt anxious or depressed about their bodies.
“Research has shown that sexual minority men feel under pressure to hold an appearance that is centred on looking slim and athletic. Pressures to live up to those ideals can have a negative impact on their emotional health.
“We found that many people identified social media as a key influence that caused them to worry about their body image. The main picture from our survey was one in which 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 one of our key asks is for the UK Government to make preventing the promotion of unhealthy or idealised body image images a specific part of its forthcoming regulation strategy.”
The Foundation states that new codes of practice should include an expectation that social media companies must take practical steps to ensure that the content they promote does note exacerbate body image concerns.
The Foundation has also published an accompanying report Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies which gives advice and tips on how people can take individual action to address this urgent problem.
If you are feeling like ending your life or feel unable to keep yourself safe, please call 999 or go to A&E and ask for the contact of the nearest crisis resolution team. These are teams of mental health care professionals who work with people in severe distress. If you feel affected by the content you have read, please see our get help page for support.
Notes to editors
There are no specific trans figures available because the number who identified as trans for the survey were too low to give a representative sample. However, this is an area the Mental Health Foundation is keen to explore and we intend to do further research on trans people and body image.
The total sample size was 4,505 adults, including 179 gay men or lesbians and 190 bisexuals. Fieldwork was between 25 to 26 March 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 18+).
Since 1949, the Mental Health Foundation has been the UK’s leading charity for everyone’s mental health prevention at the heart of what we do, we aim to find and address the sources of mental health problems so that people and communities can thrive. Our mission is to help people understand, protect and sustain their mental health.
LGBTIQ+ people: statistics
Mental health problems such as depression, self-harm, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but they’re more common among people who are LGBTIQ+.
Body image, sexual orientation and gender identity report
While people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) experience body image concerns in ways that are generally similar to people who identify as heterosexual, their experience and relationship with their body is likely to differ in specific ways.