BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change. The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.
Chris Curry is a certified Addiction Therapist, mental health stigma blogger, author, musician and public speaker dedicated to eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness. He currently works in a long-term treatment facility for men on parole who have histories of major mental illness and addiction. He lives in Ottawa with the love of his life Natasha and their two cats.
The Intersection of Weight Stigma and Mental Health
For all the talking I’ve done about stigma over the past few years, I have somehow managed to neglect one very important aspect of the whole picture: how does weight stigma affect one’s overall mental health?
Let’s face it, we all have body issues. I have yet to meet one single person who couldn’t find at least one thing they would change about their physical appearance. Perhaps you want to shed a few pounds, or maybe gain a few pounds? Maybe you don’t think that your legs are all that they could be, or that your arms are too short. We all have baggage about our bodies, and we carry that around with us wherever we go.
After being asked to be a part of this wonderful campaign, I noticed that there is a huge gap in services provided to diverse populations seeking mental health care. Namely, that we don’t always think to ask about how someone’s issues with weight management could be contributing to their mental health symptoms.
Just as with any other stigmatizing topic, people aren’t usually too quick to mention their body issues with a therapist or counsellor. It may seem irrelevant, unimportant or that there are more pressing issues that need to be taken care of first.
Take for example someone who has recently attempted suicide. Their version of why it happened may sound something like ‘I lost my job, I couldn’t pay the rent and the depression took me over again.’ But perhaps, just under the seams, they had been trying for weeks to lose weight without any results and that played a role in their decision to attempt suicide.
There is a great deal of stigma surrounding weight that is pervasive in society. The media all tell us that women need to be wafer thin and that men should be built and robust. And these constant messages that we get from the media, from friends and family and from anywhere else deeply affect us. Likely quite a bit more than we realize.
But what would the world look like if it was ok to be a little overweight? If people didn’t immediately judge you and label you simply for having a few extra pounds? Or for having a few fewer pounds? Maybe if people who suffered from depression and also had a weight management problem were told that there is nothing wrong with their bodies, they may be able to overcome their depression?
Or perhaps if children were educated from a young age that we all have different bodies and there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ body, we may see a decline in substance abuse.
As I detail in my memoir ‘Completely in Blue: Dispatches from the Edge of Insanity’ I have struggled with and overcome battles with drug addiction, psychosis, depression and anxiety. But all the while I was going through various therapies for all of my maladaptive behaviours, I never once did mention that I also suffered from body issues.
Always being on the thinner end, I was smaller than the other boys in school. In high school, I grew tall but still stayed thin. This affected my self-esteem, self-worth, my relationships with women, my confidence in sports and I’m sure affected me in ways I didn’t even realize.
If I would have been told that ‘it is OK to talk about your body. That it is OK to not feel normal. It is OK to feel inadequate. But most of all, that it’s OK to talk about it’, maybe something would have been different.
I don’t have any idea just how much my body issues affected my mental health. But I know they did.
If we start the conversation now, we can save thousands of similar people from having to suffer in silence.
Because after all, you are beautiful and you are worthy.