Body Image

– in the Scottish Parliament on 14th May 2019.

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Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

1. To ask the Scottish Government what action it is taking in response to the recent Mental Health Foundation report, which suggests that one third of adults in Scotland are anxious about their body image. (S5T-01647)

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

I welcome the recent Mental Health Foundation report and its focus on the importance of a healthy body image. Scotland is at the forefront of tackling that worldwide issue. Body image is increasingly recognised as a factor that can negatively affect people’s self-esteem and mental health. That is particularly, but not exclusively, the case for young women, as was highlighted by recent research that we published. We take seriously the report and the acuteness of those issues for young people. This morning, I announced the establishment of an advisory group on healthy body image for young people. Following a six-month review, the group will provide the Scottish Government with specific recommendations for the next steps on how to promote and achieve a healthy body image.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank the minister for her helpful answer. I also welcome the report and the excellent work that the Mental Health Foundation has done.

The survey highlighted the profound impact that things such as social media and online advertising are having on many young people in Scotland. It also alluded to differences in the perception of body image among people from ethnic minorities and people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. It is sad that the survey reported that 38 per cent of adults said that they felt depressed about their body image, and 32 per cent of young people in Scotland thought that images on social media were causing them to worry about it.

I welcome the establishment of the advisory group. Will the minister elaborate on the make up of the group’s membership, its strategy and objectives, whether its focus will extend to at-risk adult groups and whether any funding has been allocated the group?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

It is particularly fitting that we are discussing the issue in Parliament during mental health awareness week and learning disability week.

This morning, I met Girlguiding Scotland to discuss the impact of body image on its members’ mental health and wellbeing and to seek its views on the advisory group. I am happy to give Mr Greene more detail. The advisory group will focus on the following tasks: developing a charter pledge on healthy body image for young people; developing a Scotland-wide definition of what body image means; developing options for how relevant professionals can support healthy body image, including in schools; considering the need for wider public consultation on where actions should be taken; and providing the Scottish Government with specific recommendations and advice on the next steps. The group will link into the forthcoming advice on healthy social media use that we announced a few weeks ago, and it will reflect the issues relating to adolescent females, as highlighted in the report.

We will announce the make up of the group in due course.

Photo of Jamie Greene Jamie Greene Conservative

I thank the minister for the further clarification.

There were a number of other recommendations in the report that we should take seriously, although I appreciate that some of them relate to reserved matters, such as regulation of the industry and the internet. However, I would like to have an understanding of the Scottish Government’s position and what steps it can take around improving the reporting of, for example, online abuse on social media, and making recommendations on public awareness of a greater diversity of body types. Does the Government think that it has a role to play in changing people’s perceptions in Scotland of the great diversity that exists and the idea that one should never be ashamed of one’s own body.

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

Mr Greene raises some interesting points. It is incumbent on us all to challenge some of the perceptions that people—particularly, but not exclusively, young people, and certainly not exclusively adolescent girls—report in relation to their body image and how those affect their mental wellbeing.

We recognise the links between unhealthy use of social media and lower mental wellbeing in children and young people. That is why we committed to publishing advice on healthy social media use. That piece of work will link into the advisory group, which will come back to the Scottish Government with recommendations.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The minister will be well aware that people with diabetes face particular mental health challenges arising from body image and physical health. I am sure that she will also know that there was a round-table meeting in Parliament today that highlighted those issues.

Does she agree with Diabetes Scotland that it is important that patients have access to psychological and emotional support, as well as to routine examinations relating to their physical health, and does she agree that patients should be involved in the design of that support?

Photo of Clare Haughey Clare Haughey Scottish National Party

To answer Mr Macdonald’s last point about patients being involved, I think that we need to have the voices of lived experience at the heart of all that we do. We have demonstrated that by setting up the children and young people’s mental health task force, which is co-chaired with young people, and young people will certainly be involved in developing the social media guidance for young people. Therefore, we need to ensure that we have that lived experience.

I am aware of the specific issue that Mr Macdonald raises, and that is why we have continued to increase our investment in mental health services. There will be an additional £250 million of investment in mental health services over the next five years to improve services for children and young people and adults across the piece and embed the good mental health record across all our public services.