Studies have found a correlation between poor body image and mental health, however the cause and effect relationship between poor body image and depression is unclear. Negative body image can be a result of depression, and conversely negative body image may increase feelings of depression. Associations between body image and depression have been found among obese people as well as those who suffer from anorexia and bulimia. Some studies have found a link between dieting and depression. Body image and feelings of self-esteem are particularly vulnerable to mass media that creates unrealistic expectations about appearance.
Research on obesity and depression have identified a clear connection between the body image and depression, but the cause and effect relationship is not clear. Since one of the symptoms of depression can be overeating, a depressed person may become obese. Obese people, especially women, are more likely to have low self-esteem, be dissatisfied with their appearance, and feel guilty. These feelings can lead to depression. Societal prejudice against the obese contributes as well to the anxiety and stress felt by overweight people.
People suffering from eating disorders, such anorexia and bulimia, have higher levels of depression too, although these conditions do not always go hand in hand. Obsession about food and body image leads to a vicious cycle of low self-esteem, guilt and distorted perceptions that can cause depression. In these cases both the eating disorder and the depression should be treated by a mental health professional.
The practice of dieting is rampant in the west, especially in the US where levels of obesity have skyrocketed. Ironically, studies have found a connection with dieting and increased levels of depression. Diets often interfere with social interaction, and induce feelings of guilt. Diets or poor dietary habits can also lead to a lack of essential nutrients which can further impact levels of depression.
Notions about body image partially develop from exposure to television and print where women in particular are often sexualized. Even people who are not depressed or suffering from an eating disorder can be obsessed about body image. Many women as well as men feel pressure to live up to the ideals created by media, and many experience poor body image and depression due to this pressure.
In the West, thinness has become symbolic of economic status, accomplishment and discipline. One study found that 89% of the women wanted to lose weight. Yet for most women, the idealized notion of thinness is an unattainable goal leading to frustration, guilt, lowered self-esteem and many times depression.
Research has found that girls who see their bodies as objects and who try to attain unrealistic ideals of thinness are more likely to suffer from depression and even suicidal feelings. Among adolescent women, surveys have shown that 59% feel they are fat and want to lose weight. Girls who practiced extreme dieting also received poorer nourishment and ate fewer fruits and vegetables than those not dieting, thus compromising their growth and overall health.