Mental Health Awareness Week: Sunderland lecturer discusses body image issues to tie in with charity campaign

Mental Health Awareness Week launched on Monday.
Mental Health Awareness Week launched on Monday.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week campaign focuses on issues surrounding body image.

And as the initiative sweeps social media, encouraging people to share their own mental health struggles and stories, Dr Helen Driscoll, Principal Lecturer in Psychology and Evolutionary Psychologist at Sunderland University, discussed how the media's portrayal of body image can impact a person's mental health and wellbeing, as well as the other factors that could be at play.

She appeared on the Sunderland University podcast series, Sunderland Talks, to address the issues.

Dr Driscoll said: "People think body image ideals come from the media because of the way they portray a certain type of shape. But it’s more the case the media is reflecting, or maybe even amplifying, something that is already there."

The body image initiative is part of a national campaign, organised annually by the Mental Health Foundation - and according to the charity's research, one in five of the 4,505 adults surveyed said they felt shame over their body image.

Just over a third (34%) revealed they felt down or low about how they looked, while 19% said they felt disgusted because of their body image in the last year.

Dr Helen Driscoll.

Dr Helen Driscoll.

One in eight adults said they felt suicidal because they were so unhappy about how they looked.

In addition, more than a third of teenagers (37%) felt upset about their body image, while 31% said they felt ashamed of it.

In the podcast, Dr Driscoll went on to discuss idealised images of both the male and female body, as well as our preferences when it comes to facial shape.

A curvaceous shape, or so-called hourglass figure, can be a preference when it comes to the female body.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on body image.

This year's Mental Health Awareness Week focuses on body image.

The ideal male shape seems to revolve around having a triangular torso, with wide shoulders and a narrower waist, she added.

Symmetrical faces also attract both men and women

Dr Driscoll continued to describe the media as an "exacerbation rather than a cause" and said: “Today we live in a globalised world where we have access to millions of people at the push of a button.

"We are bombarded with images every day whether it be in the newspapers or on Instagram, or whatever social media platform it might be.

"If we compare ourselves and make some kind of negative comparison with the bodies we see on a daily basis then it can affect self-esteem. That’s not to say it results in mental health problems; it can, but it is a little bit more complex than that."