“Worryingly high” levels of body image anxiety in the LGBT+ community revealed in new Mental Health Foundation poll

Worryingly high numbers of people among the LGBT+ 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.

One third (33 per cent) of the LGBT+ community said they had experienced suicidal thoughts and feelings in relation to their body image.

Nearly four in ten (39 per cent) of people who identified as bisexual and almost a quarter (23 per cent) 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 per cent) of heterosexuals.

Almost half (45 per cent) of people who identified as bisexual and nearly three in ten (29 per cent) 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 13-19 May, which this year has the theme of body image.

Other survey findings show that 29 per cent of bisexuals surveyed have deliberately hurt themselves because of their body image, as have 15 per cent of gay men and lesbians.

59 per cent of bisexuals and 46 per cent of gay men or lesbians felt “anxious” because of their body image.

66 per cent of bisexuals have felt “depressed” because of their body image, as have 45 per cent 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 LGBT+ community is most likely to be affected. Large numbers of LGBT+ 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 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.

ENDS

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.

Total sample size was 4,505 adults, including 179 gay men or lesbians and 190 bisexuals. Fieldwork was between 25th - 26th 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.