Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation (MHF), Mental Health Awareness Week takes place from 13 until 19 May and the theme this year is body image – how we think and feel about our bodies, based on research undertaken by the foundation.
The MHF research shows that just over one in five adults (22%) and 40% of teenagers worry about their body image as a result of social media. Another piece of research by the Be Real campaign finds that almost two-thirds of young people (61%) feel pressure to look their best online and more than two thirds (67%) regularly worry about the way they look.
MHF make a number of recommendations for regulators, industry, public health and education. But what does this mean for mental health practitioners and digital mental health innovators interested in helping young people?
In Teen mental health in an online world, along with a colleague, I explored teenagers’ use of social media and the impact on body image, amongst other adverse effects. Whilst the association between negative body image and idealised images online is clear, the ways in which young people actively resist these stereotypes is often underestimated in research and campaigns.
Through our interviews and focus groups, we found examples of young people being anything other than passive consumers as they navigate their on/ offline lives. In one focus group, we stumbled across the #iamperfectasme social media campaign which was established by a group of BAME young women in Bradford, who set out to promote body confidence amongst their peers.
Other examples can be found via Mind Media Award digital champions which recognises people who using digital media to talk positively about mental health. 2018 finalists comprised bloggers, vloggers and graphic artists. One finalist,Kate Baguely, posts about living with an eating disorder in order to share her experiences and help others. These are great examples of young people using digital media to disrupt negative body image and promote positive mental health.
This Mental Health Awareness Week, it is important that we amplify the voices of young people who are challenging the status quo.
So what does #BeBodyKind mean for mental health practitioners and digital mental health innovators?
It is tempting to be overwhelmed by the negative implications of the online world as routinely reported in the mainstream media. However, practitioners should take a balanced approach to helping young people harness the valuable aspects of digital media whilst steering through aspects of online life which can undoubtedly be problematic.
In practice, this means adopting an inquiring approach and taking the role of ally with young people, grounded in an asset based and recovery focused orientation. Practitioners should role model positive digital behaviours and guide young people to exploit the creative and self-directed opportunities afforded by the internet.
Helping young people develop intrinsic assets such as self-efficacy, social skills and reflectiveness, whilst also harnessing external assets such as family, peers and community, all go some way to developing resilience in the face of external pressures and impulsive desires.
For digital innovators this means recognising young people’s assets and co-designing digital tools that build on their strengths and help them address real world challenges in ways which are desirable to them. Calm Harm and Cove are examples of effective digital tools which have been co-designed with young people. There are other approved digital tools and services which can be found on the NHS Digital Apps Library.
I am looking forward to speaking about this and related themes at the HIMSS and Health 2.0 Europe conference in Helsinki this June.