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Body Image Related to Mental Health in Teens

girl checking weight

Body Image Related to Mental Health in Teens


We cannot deny that people tend to feel the way they look -- or think they look. Those who believe they look great also often feel great and have higher self-esteem.

For people with negative body image, the results can be very alarming, especially among young adults.


Negative Body Image Linked to Depression, Anxiety, Suicidality in Adolescents

Young adults are particularly concerned about their appearance. But this isn't a mere observation to put aside. Research has found that depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are more prevalent in adolescents with a negative body image. This is even more than in people with other psychiatric disorders.

The study was conducted by researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital, and Brown Medical School.


The Research

There are many forms of body image concerns, and they can affect how people think in different ways.

The researchers evaluated the following body image concerns in several hospitalized adolescents:

The study discovered that one-third of the adolescents had body image concerns and were more severely ill than their counterparts. Adolescents with BDD, eating disorders, and weight/shape concerns were significantly more depressed, anxious, and suicidal than others without any negative body image.

Study author Jennifer Kittler, Ph.D., noted how this research highlights the significance of body image in young people's mental health. Many adolescents are preoccupied with their appearance, and it causes them a lot of distress when they feel adequate.

And more often than not, young people tend to measure themselves based on social standards.

Additionally, the researchers discovered that the patients tend to have higher levels of:

This finding suggests that the adolescents' body image concerns may have something to do with past sexual or physical abuse.

But the most interesting thing about the research is that most of the patients weren't actually overweight. They just thought they were. More often than not, young people misconceive or exaggerate their physical issues, and it puts so much pressure on them.


A Silent Killer

Sadly, body image concerns are actually a silent killer. It is a mental health risk that often goes unnoticed and can render interventions less effective.

Notably, the hospitalized patients in the study were being treated for mood disorders, generalized anxiety, and PTSD. But none of them was treated for body image concerns, a significant contributor to their hospitalization. It means the underlying condition wasn't addressed.

These findings are important as they highlight how much support parents and healthcare providers need to offer teens. While you may think a child only has generalized anxiety or depression, it may actually be because of how they perceive their appearance. Sadly, they won't readily tell you if you do not probe hard enough.

"We have indeed seen a number of teens entering the hospital whose negative feelings about their appearance is a major influence on suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts, a fact which is often initially not recognized by parents and even professionals," says Jennifer Dyl, lead author.


The Bottom Line

Concerns about one's appearance can be distressing and impairing for teens, detracting from their quality of life. It takes so much energy from them as they're always preoccupied with these thoughts, in public and in solitude.

Encouraging teens to verbalize their appearance concerns can go a long way in promoting their mental health. They find it hard to speak about these things because they may sound awkward. But helping them understand that it's okay to feel that way is a great step to helping them find confidence again.

Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu H. Woodland, PMHCNS-BC, APRN Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Hope Mental Health, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults.  Ms. Woodland with her background in nursing, prefers a holistic and integrative approach to mental health care that addresses the mind and body together. While Ms. Woodland provides medication management services in all her patients, she believes in long-lasting solutions that include a number of psychotherapies, namely cognitive behavioral therapy, exposure and response prevention therapy, attention to lifestyle, evidenced based alternative psychiatric care and spirituality. If you’d like to gain control over your mental health issues, call Hope Mental Health at 208-918-0958, or use the online scheduling tool to set up an initial consultation.

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