Why not start by improving your mental health?

Ok, so recently on my Facebook feed, I commented on the escalation of information currently available on how to improve yourself physically. If you follow social media, you would have noticed the numerous conflicting plans and programs out there focussing on creating the perfect body. Some advocate for weight training, other HIIT; there are those suggesting paleo, others say keto, carbs are in and then carbs are out. What is best? I don’t know, as I am a psychiatrist and not a PT or a dietician. But what is most interesting, is how often a picture of a half-naked woman or a muscle-bulging man is accompanied by a mental health slogan: “love yourself!”, “be your best you!”, “live with gratitude”, “be positive”, “look for happiness in the right places!” etc. etc.

I am not judging these programs and I too follow online programs. I think promoting health and well-being is never wrong and I am definitely in favour of advocating for mental well-being. However, I have some questions and concerns about the current status quo.

I feel that the various options on offer result in the belief that there is a “quick fix” or a “single solution” to improving your body. My view is that there is something to be said for basics (such as eat well and balanced and exercise) and nothing has a quick, “one-size-fits-all” solution. It would be important to know your body and your mind (and if not to seek professional help with regards to this) and to find the correct AND SUSTAINABLE solution for you.

I have used my “body obsession” as a place to channel anxiety, need for control and self-esteem. I have noted many fitness models commenting on their battles with mental health and eating disorders. What was once anorexia, has evolved into a control over macros and weights and somehow, muscles, steroids, protein powder, egg whites and bikini model competitions are seen as less problematic than anorexia.

Once again, this isn’t a judgment or a comparison, but it’s a request for realness and honesty. I do have difficulty digesting the image of a photo-shopped model, who has had no water for 24 hrs, alongside a slogan stating “love yourself and appreciate life”.

My final concern with recent trends, is that there is often less tolerance for the upsurge of emphasis on mental health. I have heard many comments that suggest talking about mental health to the same extent as we talk about physical health, is facilitating the problem and condoning having “issues”. Ok, and starving before a photo shoot is not a problem? And suggesting to our youth that this is the norm for a man and a woman’s body is not creating issues?

I suggest we educate. I encourage us to be real. Let’s talk about health and wellness in a helpful and balanced way. Let’s make it ok for people to ask for help. Let’s build resilience and coping skills in our children that they don’t have to obsess over their bodies. Let’s talk mental health, so we don’t need to talk mental illness!

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