Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: 'Body image' report makes stark reading

New codes of practice would be enforced by an independent regulator, and would make social media companies responsible for taking practical steps to ensure that their content does not exacerbate people's concerns about body image
New codes of practice would be enforced by an independent regulator, and would make social media companies responsible for taking practical steps to ensure that their content does not exacerbate people's concerns about body image

Editor's Viewpoint

The results of a new survey published today reveal that one in eight adults in Northern Ireland has had suicidal thoughts or feelings because of concerns about body image.

The survey, published to mark Mental Health Awareness Week, underlines that just less than a third of adults here have felt anxiety because of concerns about their body image.

The report - Body Image: How we think and feel about our bodies - also reveals that just over one in three adults questioned had felt depressed because of their body image, while 20% have experienced "shame" over the past year for the same reason.

These figures are made even more shocking by the revelation that some of the respondents said that they had self-harmed.

The publication follows a weekend of Darkness Into Light events, where thousands throughout Ireland took part in a global campaign to raise awareness of suicide.

Figures from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reveal that 463 people took their own lives in the 18 months since January 2017.

As with many modern scourges, the influence of social media is seen as largely baleful in promoting the viewing of unhealthy body images, marginalising - or worse, ostracising - those who do not live up to their "ideal" shape.

The Mental Health Foundation is asking the Government to introduce new codes of practice.

These would be enforced by an independent regulator, and would make social media companies responsible for taking practical steps to ensure that their content does not exacerbate people's concerns about body image.

Despite the huge advances of recent years, the mental health professionals still report that they have to fight to have their specialism taken seriously.

However, while more must be done, a healthcare issue that regularly claims more lives than the Troubles at their height has long since been shorn of a Cinderella status.

While state interference is rightly seen as the enemy of media freedom and must be rigorously justified - and even more rigorously policed - the social benefits of the proposals by the Mental Health Foundation vastly outweigh any potential detriment to the principle of free expression.

If the Government ignores this eminently sensible policy initiative, it will do so at its own very considerable peril.

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