Millions of British adults have experienced suicidal thoughts or feelings due to their body image, a new survey has found.

The Mental Health Foundation polled 4,505 adults in March and revealed that one in eight (13 per cent) of them had considered taking their own lives because of concerns relating to body image.

The charity commissioned the survey for Mental Health Awareness Week, which begins on Monday 15 May with a theme of body image in light of growing concerns over how this can contribute to poor mental wellbeing, particularly in young women.

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More than a third of respondents said their body image left them feeling anxious (34 per cent) or depressed (35 per cent).

Additionally, 20 per cent of those surveyed felt shame over the way they looked and 19 per cent reported feeling “disgusted”.

The survey found that social media and images used in advertising have a significant part to play in how we perceive our body image, with almost half of the 18 to 24-year-olds blaming the former for provoking anxieties about the way they look while one in five said the latter.

(Statista/The Independent/Mental Health Foundation)

Mark Rowland, the chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said the research clearly shows that body image is having an adverse effect on millions of people’s mental wellbeing.

“For some people this is potentially very severe, with large numbers saying they have self-harmed or had suicidal thoughts and feelings,” he added.

“Many people identified social media as an important factor causing them to worry about their body image – and the majority of respondents felt the Government needed to take more action.”

In light of the research, the charity is calling for effective regulation of how body image is portrayed in the media, urging the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to consider vetting ads from high-risk industries, such as cosmetic surgery companies and weight loss services.

As for social media companies, the charity has directed them towards the Be Real Campaign’s Body Image Pledge, which encourages the companies to commit to finding new ways to promote a positive body image and ensure a diverse range of body types is presented on their platforms.

On its website, the charity also lists several tips for individuals on how to improve their relationships with their bodies. These include confiding in a trusted friend, spring-cleaning apps from your smartphone and exercising.  

You can contact the Samaritans by calling them for free from any phone for free on 116 123, email jo@samaritans.org or visit www.samaritans.org to find details of your nearest branch.

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