A Clinical Psychologist who supports students with mental health issues at a Suffolk college has spoken of the positive impact which having a healthy body image has on mental wellbeing in the run up to a national awareness week.
Dr Beth Mosley, who is employed by Norfolk and Suffolk NHS Foundation Trust (NSFT) and works at Thurston Community College, is urging parents and those who work with young people to be positive role models and promote the health benefits of food and exercise, rather than linking them to appearance.
She is also reminding young people not to compare themselves to their friends or the images they see on social media, many of which are heavily edited and not based on reality.
Dr Mosley's words come in the run up to Mental Health Awareness Week 2019, which starts on Monday (13 May) and this year carries the theme "body image – how we think and feel about our bodies".
The theme has been chosen after Mental Health Foundation research suggested that 30% of all adults had been so stressed by body image and appearance that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope.
The Foundation is now calling for more to be done in schools and for people to change the way they talk about their bodies to help tackle problems in the future.
"I often meet with young people who are struggling with feeling comfortable with their own bodies, sometimes to the point that they restrict their eating," said Dr Mosley. "They are bombarded with images of the ideal faces and bodies, and this creates a sense of body dissatisfaction for some.
"The filters and editing which everyone now uses on social media also doesn't help with painting a true picture of the diversity and beauty of human faces and bodies of all shapes and sizes."
Thurston Community College was one of the first schools in the country to appoint a full-time expert to support students with mental health issues when it recruited Dr Mosley, in partnership with NSFT, in 2017.
And although Dr Mosley has not seen an increase in young people presenting with eating disorders during her time in post, the UK nationally has seen a significant increase in hospital admissions over the past eight years.
"There is no single cause of body dissatisfaction and/or disorder eating, but research tells us that social media contributes to both of these issues," added Dr Mosley. "It is therefore very important when using social media to avoid images that are going to encourage feelings of dissatisfaction with your own body.
"Parents or adults who work with young people can help by being positive role models and demonstrating a healthy relationship with food and exercise. Eating together as a family daily is helpful for children's wellbeing and health, so it's good to make this a priority. It's also essential for us to create a culture of acceptance and give young people the opportunity to talk about their concerns non-judgementally so that we can provide them with the support they need to navigate the journey of adolescence in this complex and quickly-changing world.
"My advice to young people would be to avoid comparing your body with your friends or those you might see on social media. Every body is different and has unique genetic and cultural factors. Accepting and feeling comfortable with your own body means focusing on its strengths and all the amazing things it does for you every day."
For more information about Mental Health Awareness Week or to find out how you can get involved, visit www.mentalhealth.org.uk/campaigns/mental-health-awareness-week
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