By Aashi Kasotia
Sugar Land, Texas Chapter Co-head
Mental health is an important aspect in our everyday lives as it is seen almost everywhere around us, whether we are in school or with our family and friends. According to the United Nations, millions of people worldwide have mental health conditions and an estimated one in four people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Furthermore, it greatly impacts our ability to reach our full potential, work productively, and effectively contribute to our community. Without positive mental health practices and coping strategies, it becomes hard for many people to function throughout their day and can lead to the worsening of many serious mental health illnesses such as depression and ADHD. However, the problem is that these illnesses are often portrayed incorrectly or stereotyped in the media by depicting an illness as more or less severe than it actually is.
But, why do multimillion-dollar companies feel the need to exacerbate the effects of such illnesses and misrepresent them in their content? The answer is simple. These companies run based on how interested their audience is in the plot and storyline, so they often stretch the truth to entertain their audience and maintain profits. By illustrating an extremely positive or negative mental illness, the media engages their audience with added conflicts and drama, therefore, leading to an increase in views and likes. Despite their intentions, many companies do not understand or care about the negative effects they have on the mental health of others and the inaccurate stereotypes they create in society.
Regardless of what they feel, the stigmas created through the media have a large impact on what people tend to believe about mental health. Mentally ill people are often characterized as more violent, less likely to recover, and also extremely different from the other “normal” characters. On the other hand, characters can be designed to have an overly positive attitude about an illness, ignoring the fact that a certain illness is actually hard to live with. These interpretations can lead to false beliefs regarding the symptoms of mental health illnesses and cause people to act on these beliefs in their own life experiences. For example, a 2006 study claims that 60% of Americans believe that schizophrenics are violent due to their portrayal of them committing crimes and going to jail in common media sources. However, data proves that it is closer to only 7.5% of people who actually display symptoms of aggressive behavior and violence as a result of schizophrenia, so most media sources completely exaggerate what the illness really is. This demonstrates the heavy influence that media can have on our perception of others and their issues, leading to further inequality and discrimination of mentally ill people.
Now that you understand some of the ways that media companies negatively portray mental health, how can we reduce the stigma associated with these illnesses? Firstly, to undo the effects of the media's misrepresentation, you can use your knowledge to educate people correctly and fix their perception of mental health illnesses. For example, you can create a social media page that sheds a positive light on illnesses, conduct interviews to gather accurate information from mentally-ill people, or host a presentation for people in your community to share your findings. Additionally, you can promote open communication about mental health topics and be careful about the language you use when discussing them with others. It is important to set an example for others as to how we can discourage shame and stigmatization and replace it with compassion and empathy. Lastly, you can go directly to the media sources and advocate for them reporting accurate information, approaching sensitive topics with a positive attitude, and including expert input to reduce misrepresentation.
There are many ways to address this issue in society, and most of the ideas start with you! So, what will you do next time you see a TV or movie show that stigmatizes mental health? We hope you make the right choice and help others realize what mental illnesses truly are.
By: Mackenzie Piano
Volunteer; Canaan, New Hampshire, USA
As social media and many other aspects of our daily lives begin to influence its users more and more, it takes a toll on how we view ourselves. When the first thing you see in the morning is photoshopped images of models with unrealistic bodies, we start to believe we have to look like that to be considered beautiful. However, reality is people on social media don’t even look like that in real life! While there are many ways to gain confidence and start loving yourself, here are some tips to get you started.
1. Speak kindly to yourself and about yourself
Many people pick apart their flaws and call themselves names, while some people may do it in a humorous way. It really causes harm to your mental health and how you perceive yourself. While you may not believe you are beautiful, starting to appreciate your body for keeping you alive is one simple way to start.
2. Eat foods that make you feel good
When there are hundreds of diet fads and nutrition advice floating around it is easy to get caught up in eating what the instagram model said she eats or the new diet that a celebrity is trying, but it is most important to eat what makes you feel good and what makes you happy. Eating a well balanced diet keeps you energized and feeling good. Eat what makes you happy not what someone else eats because everyone has different dietary needs.
3. Get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep helps reduce stress, which in return helps your mental health. It is important to have enough energy to face the day in order to feel good about ourselves and be productive!
4. Identify the situations that trigger you
An important step in gaining confidence is recognizing what triggers negative thoughts about your body or food. This may be social media, certain friends or family members, etc… Once you find your triggers, try to understand why they trigger you and what ways you can make these situations less triggering.
5. Find a source of exercise that you enjoy!
Exercising is a great way to boost endorphins and help yourself feel more energized. It is important to exercise in a way that you find enjoyable; exercise is supposed to be a reward for your body, not a punishment.
6. Dress in clothing that makes you feel good
Putting on clothes that make you feel confident is an extremely important step to feeling confident in yourself. It takes courage to wear clothing that may be out of your comfort zone, but after a while it will become more normal. It is important to live your life for yourself and not others. Focusing on what makes others feel good about themselves when it comes to things like clothing will not make you feel good.
7. Try out positive affirmations
Using positive affirmations can be a great way to get in the habit of speaking kindly to yourself. Positive affirmations can be used as much as you’d like and are as simple as saying or writing down phrases such as, “I am beautiful” or “I am loved”. Speaking or writing positively can put yourself in a more positive headspace.
8. Practice not comparing yourself to others
This is a very common way that many people shame themselves. By comparing yourself to other people the world may view as “perfect” you create an unrealistic image that you may try to achieve and end up feeling worse about yourself. It is important to remember everyone is different for a reason and you are beautiful in your own way.
9. Spend time with people that make you feel good about yourself
When trying to gain confidence and love yourself, staying away or limiting your time spent with people who tear you down is important. As humans, we tend to focus most on the one negative comment we receive rather than the many other positive comments we may have received. People who support your self love journey will be the most beneficial people in your life and help you the most.
10. Celebrate the little accomplishments
Whether this be a good grade on a test, not comparing yourself to others for the day, or speaking kindly to yourself, celebrate it! Celebrating yourself is another way to feel good about yourself and appreciate yourself. It is important to remember that confidence is not just about the body, and includes all of the feelings you have about yourself.
“Building Confidence and Self-Esteem.” Childline, www.childline.org.uk/info-advice/your-feelings/feelings-emotions/building-confidence-self-esteem/.
Pettit, Mark, et al. “How to Be More Confident: 10 Self-Confidence Tips - Lucemi Consulting.” Lucemi Consulting: Strategic Business Coaching, 26 Apr. 2021, lucemiconsulting.co.uk/how-to-be-more-confident/.
Q&A With Meredith Rose
*This interview was conducted with Bayreach, a student run health non-profit based in California. The questions were submitted anonymously through a survey conducted by both organizations. It is also available in 2nd newsletter. Read the original interview here
Meredith Rose is a Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW) in the state of Missouri, currently pursuing licensure as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). She completed the Master of Social Work program at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis with a concentration in Mental Health. Meredith has worked with adults, adolescents, and couples on a variety of issues including anxiety, depression, relationship struggles, life transitions, and self-exploration including work surrounding LGBTQ+ identities. Meredith is also a Kink-Aware professional (KAP), and offers a non-judgmental approach to working with members of these special communities. Meredith believes that the path with each relationship with each client is unique, but uses core values of acceptance and strengths-based perspectives to inform a centered, nonjudgmental approach with each client. She is particularly interested in considering the whole person (rather than isolated constructs which divide us up into parts), and often incorporates awareness-increasing tools such as meditation and mindfulness.
1. I’ve always been confused on what exactly an eating disorder is. Could it also include binging food?
Broadly, when someone changes their normal eating patterns and it leads to physical health problems or makes it hard for them to function, they may fit the criteria for an eating disorder. There are six different eating disorders recognized by doctors and mental health professionals, each with distinct criteria, and in order to find out if you qualify for an eating disorder you must be evaluated by a health professional. Both Binge-Eating Disorder and Bulimia Nervosa involve binging food, which means eating an amount of food that is larger than what most people would eat in one sitting and a feeling of a lack of control while binging.
2. Are there multiple types of eating disorders? What are some warning signs to consider if you think a friend may need help?
There are six different officially recognized eating disorders in the United States. Some involve eating nonfood substances (this is called Pica), others involve episodes of binging and purging, or intensely restricting food. Some things that might indicate you or a friend are struggling:
2. How can you help a friend who has an eating disorder? How should you bring it up in a conversation?
If you know that your friend has an eating disorder, I would ask them what’s the best way you can support them. Your friend will know best what they need. If you’re not sure whether your friend has an eating disorder, but you suspect it, I would share what you’re noticing in them in a very nonjudgmental way. For example: “I noticed you didn’t eat your lunch yesterday and I’m curious what was happening for you” or “I noticed you have been exercising every day after school and I’m curious to hear more about that!” If you think your friends’ life is in danger you should tell an adult who you trust, like a parent, teacher, or guidance counselor.
3. Till what point is dieting and restricting food okay when I’m trying to lose weight?
What are your reasons for trying to lose weight? I would talk with your doctor about any weight loss goals. Each body is different and has different needs. Teen bodies especially are growing a lot and need adequate food intake for proper development! If you are dieting or restricting food, what consequences do you notice of dieting and restricting? For example, do you notice irritability, tiredness, lack of focus? If the consequences are becoming distressing or interfering with your life, that’s a good sign that you might want to try something other than dieting and restricting food to lose weight. You might also consider changing your goal of losing weight to a different goal, like living a healthy lifestyle.
4. What is body dysmorphic disorder?
A person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder can’t stop thinking about what they see as defects or flaws in their physical appearance (usually in their skin, hair, or nose, but could be any body part). The “flaw” appears minor or can’t be seen by others. The person will also do repetitive behaviors in response to those thoughts like checking the mirror, picking at their skin, or grooming, often for many hours a day. The person might seek out different cosmetic procedures to try to “fix” the “flaw”, but the relief is often temporary and their anxiety will resume again. Both the obsessive thoughts about their body part and the repetitions are upsetting and unwanted by the person experiencing the disorder. It is closely related to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.
5. Do genetics impact body image/ susceptibility to body dysmorphic disorder?
For Body Dysmorphic Disorder, the DSM-V (the manual used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders) states that people who are first-degree relatives of individuals with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder have a higher prevalence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder. With body image in general, a couple of studies have shown a link between genetics and body image. A Michigan study from 2012 showed that genetics influence a person having a “thin-ideal” (the acceptance of beauty standards of thinness). An older study performed in Australia in 2003 also demonstrated the influence of genetics on body attitudes.
6. What are some real life techniques to combat teenage body dysmorphia? I always am in a struggle between trying to love my body and hating it.
If you think you are struggling with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, I would suggest talking to a mental health professional to help you work through it. Treatments for Body Dysmorphic Disorder often include cognitive behavioral therapy and medication. For other body image issues, I understand how hard it can be to struggle with accepting your body. Society pushes such a narrow idea of beauty on us that it can be hard to break away from that. Know that your body is perfect and beautiful exactly as it is. I try to practice radical self-acceptance every day. Here are some concrete ideas:
7. How can you deal with negative body image?
What parts of your body does your mind negatively judge? First, notice that. For example, my mind tells me (because society spreads the message) that my body hair is gross and masculine. Once I identify the message from society, I notice how I feel about my body hair – and this changes from day to day, which is okay! I like to do little experiments with my body and the messages I receive about it from society. I’ve experimented with not shaving my legs, not shaving my armpits, not wearing any makeup, not wearing deodorant, and more. I notice how I feel and what my mind says while I’m experimenting. Body hair is something we can get rid of fairly easily if we want, but other parts of our bodies are harder or almost impossible to change. For things we can’t or don’t want to change, we have to work on acceptance. Acceptance means being okay with how something is, without trying to change it. If we can accept the parts of us that we can’t change, then we can even work towards loving and appreciating those parts. To take it back to my body hair, I can appreciate that it keeps me warm in winter.
All this being said, I want to say again that each body is perfect exactly how it is, no matter what society says. You don’t need to change a thing to belong!
8. How do external factors influence body image?
We aren’t born with judgments of our bodies – we learn them. We learn messages from our families, friends, media (like TV, movies, music), school, and our society and culture at large. Common messages I learned growing up include: thin is beautiful, fat is unhealthy, body hair is gross and masculine, straight hair is preferable to curly hair, skin should be even-toned, men should be muscular, women should have big breasts…I could go on and on. When people believe these restrictive and often harsh messages, it can lead them to do drastic, sometimes harmful things to try to make their bodies more accepted by society. The work is to identify the messages we’ve learned and decide for ourselves how we want to live our own lives.
9. How do I feel comfortable in my own skin?
What is making you feel uncomfortable in your body? The first step is identifying what feels uncomfortable. Then, is there something you can do to make yourself feel more comfortable, or is this part of your body that you can’t change and need to accept?
10. To what extent are concerns about appearance normal? Is there a certain point when I should reach out for help?
Living in our society, everyone learns messages about how their body should look. This causes us to be aware of our appearance. If your awareness of your body is causing you distress to where you are having problems at school, with friends, or at home, that would be a great time to reach out for some help.
11. Do you think dolls, toys, and cartoons characters (ex. Barbies) are impacting young kids’ body image, girls especially?
Totally! Young kids absorb these images and messages without the ability to question them. They compare their bodies to how their toys look. Unfortunately, toys often have unrealistic body proportions, are overly muscular or sexualized, or only available in certain skin colors or hair types. We need more representation and visibility for all shapes, colors, genders, hair types, abilities, and every variety of person there is.
12. Does the media play a big role in body image issues for a lot of teens because I often find myself comparing my body to women I see on YouTube and movies?
The media plays a huge role in people’s body image issues. The media gives us unrealistic expectations for how we are supposed to look. Also, there is very limited representation and visibility in the media. Additionally, I think that media portrays people in certain ways without giving us the “behind the scenes” access. For example, we see people with makeup on, maybe they’re wearing shapewear under their clothes, maybe they’ve dyed their hair, maybe they’ve had surgeries to alter their body shape or size, maybe they wax their body hair or do laser hair removal – and we don’t know any of this because it’s not presented to us. To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with doing any of these things! The media can just be deceiving because we don’t know what people look like without all these modifications. I sometimes struggle to know what’s “normal”, in terms of body hair, for example, because so many people remove their hair. When I’m struggling to feel validated in my body it helps to talk with my therapist or doctor to get a sense of what’s normal and human.
If you have questions, feel free to contact me at email@example.com!
Studies mentioned in Question 6:
Suisman, J. L., O'connor, S. M., Sperry, S., Thompson, J. K., Keel, P. K., Burt, S. A., Neale, M., Boker, S., Sisk, C., & Klump, K. L. (2012). Genetic and environmental influences on thin-ideal internalization. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 45(8), 942-948. doi:10.1002/eat.22056
Wade, T. D., Wilkinson, J., & Ben-Tovim, D. (2003). The genetic epidemiology of body attitudes, the attitudinal component of body image in women. Psychological Medicine, 33(8), 1395-1405. doi:10.1017/s0033291703008572
An Interview with Vasudha Daver
*This interview was featured in our first newsletter
*Interviewed by Shelly Bhagat and Siri Battula in May 2020
Vasudha Daver is a licensed professional counselor in private practice in Boulder, Colorado with over 10 years of experience in the field of mental health. She has worked in a variety of clinical settings such as the Asian Pacific Development Center, The Mental Health Center of Denver, Youth Villages in the greater Boston area, and most recently as a psychotherapist at the University of Colorado Boulder. Vasudha specializes in trauma informed counseling with teenagers, college students, graduate students, and young professionals that is rooted in social justice and intersectionality. You can learn more about her practice at www.innermoksha.com & on instagram @innermokshawellness
Shelly and Siri: How can people cope with loneliness during this period of social distancing?
Vasudha: Staying connected is important. I have found that dedicating about 15 minutes or so a day to socialize with a friend without any distractions can be really helpful. Another way to combat loneliness is to do something nice for someone else. Send a friend a letter, bake cookies for a neighbor, or check in on a friend and see how they are doing.
S&S: How can we keep ourselves motivated and productive during quarantine?
V: I get asked this question a lot. As we navigate living our lives inside of our homes, it is important to create a schedule for the day. I have found that if I spend a few minutes in the morning or the night before creating a plan for the next day, I tend to hold myself accountable and stay motivated.Movement is also really important. Getting up and walking around (either inside or outside) can help us from feeling low in energy or bored. Also, don’t forget that this is a difficult time and it is okay to have moments where you are not productive. We have to be gentle with ourselves as we manage this uncharted territory.
S&S: How can introverted people maintain a social life?
V: It is important to ask yourself the following question, “What do I need right now?”. By checking in and giving yourself space to figure out what you need is a great way to know when and how you would like to socialize. If being in a group chat or large virtual group hangout is overwhelming, schedule one on one hang outs. Find a way that works best for you!
S&S: What is the best way to cope with uncertainty, especially in this time?
V: It is okay to have a lot of varying emotions and thoughts about what is happening in the world and the ways that it is impacting you. Talk about it with a loved one, vent, allow yourself to feel all of your emotions, and stay connected to one another.