Body Image and Mental Health

 In Mental Health, MHFA, YMHFA

At Hero Town, the mental wellbeing of Australia’s young people is one of our highest priorities. It deeply concerned us then, in a recent post on our website, that a majority of young people named body image as a top concern.

Since it is such a major concern for young people, it is important for us to know about body image and its effects. We will be using resources from Headspace Australia to aid our understanding.

What is the difference between body image and self esteem?

Although they are closely connected, there are some differences between body image and self esteem. Headspace Australia defines self esteem as how we see ourselves and judge our overall sense of worth. This refers to many areas of self-perception, such as how we judge our intelligence, our relationships with other people and how we feel we deserve to be treated.

Signs of low self esteem include engaging in risky behaviours such as excessive drinking or extreme diet changes, withdrawing from friends and family and a fear of failure or rejection. These behaviours can be caused by negative thinking and low self-worth, and may be related to other mental health concerns.

Body image refers specifically to one’s perception of their body and physical health. According to this graphic from Headspace Australia, 76% of Australian high school girls which that they were thinner. Frighteningly, only 16% of girls are happy with their body weight.

Body Image

As we can see, body image issues aren’t limited to young women. Problems with body image also affect high school boys, with 1 in 5 stating it as their number one concern. While one third of young men wish that they were thinner, one third also wish that they were more muscular.

Warning signs of poor body image

There are many signs that a loved one may be suffering from a negative body image. From the image above, some of these include disordered eating, heightened and unhealthy interest in weight and exercise, and self-critical speech including complaints about body size.

Headspace’s resource on understanding body image provides a deeper explanation for these warning signs. Examples of poor body image include excessive dieting or binge-eating, counting calories obsessively, over-exercising, and constantly comparing their body weight to others’.

If body image issues aren’t addressed sensitively and appropriately, they may escalate into eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia. If not treated, these mental health issues can be damaging to physical health, and potentially life-threatening. This is why early intervention is so important for addressing mental health concerns.

How we can help

There are several ways to help a young person who is suffering from body image issues. Focusing on improving self worth as a person, instead of their body size, is just one of the tips suggested by Headspace. It is important to help the person suffering to think positively rather than concentrating on their negative perceptions.

Professional help for body image problems can be sought from your GP, school counsellors, psychologists and mental health workers. If you have a young person in your life who is experiencing issues with their body image, you can empower yourself with the knowledge and resources to help them. By training in Youth Mental Health First Aid, you can learn how to approach and address body image issues in a young person.

Steph Downing
Stephanie Downing is the administrative assistant for Hero Town Geelong. Born and raised in Geelong, Australia, Stephanie is a graduate of Deakin University with her Honours degree in Professional and Creative Writing. She adores words of all sorts and is especially infatuated with the medium of poetry and fiction, with publications of her work being featured in magazines such as WORDLY Magazine, Plumwood Mountain Journal and Cordite Poetry Review.
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