Today, on World Suicide Prevention Day, Youth Mental Health Campaigner Suzanne Samaka is pushing everyone to do more to protect young people against eating disorders, anxiety, depression and loneliness.
Around 200 young people die by suicide every year, and according to the Samaritans, most young people tell them that loneliness plays a role in their suicidal thoughts.
A survey conducted by the Royal Society for Public Health asked 14-24 year olds in the UK how social media platforms impacted their health and well-being. The results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram were all linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image and loneliness.
Suzanne Samaka wants the UK to follow France, Israel and Norway in amending the laws to label content that has been digitally amended online, for example with Photoshop, Facetune and filters. She has started a campaign called #HonestyAboutEditing to protect young people during this mental health crisis. Suzanne tells The Female Lead more...
Q. Where does your passion to empower women to love themselves stem from?
My passion stems from my mother - someone who put her all into her children to ensure they had the best start possible even though she didn’t have it easy. Without that guiding support I don’t really know where I would be. She instilled great confidence and resilience in me - attributes that have been so needed at so many times in my life.
I think it’s vitally important to have confidence in yourself. Without this, further challenges can develop, such as anxiety or depression, and these limit women and girls from achieving their full potential. I believe it’s my responsibility to help pave the way to ensure the future generation has the support required to achieve their ambitions, without self doubt limiting them.
Q. What inspired you to start the #HonestyAboutEditing campaign and what does it mean to you personally?
A close family member has suffered with an eating disorder for a number of years and whilst that is my first hand experience, I have just seen too many examples where young people are suffering from significant mental health challenges. These illnesses don’t get fixed overnight and often add to further challenges in the lives of individuals.
Social media dishonesty and digital editing doesn’t create these problems, but it certainly exacerbates them significantly. I believe prevention is better than a cure, and if the campaign helps prevent these issues even for one person, then it’s a win in my book.
I believe it’s my responsibility to help pave the way to ensure the future generation has the support required to achieve their ambitions, without self doubt limiting them.
Q. What do you hope to achieve with your campaigning and activism?
I am working with a number of MPs and a national eating disorder charity. Firstly, I want to change the law so digitally amended content online - such as body shape/size or skin - is labelled so people know that the images they’re seeing aren’t possible to achieve. I want to do this to ensure people don’t think of their own body image or self esteem negatively in line with this. This is the law in France and Israel, with Norway passing a similar law recently.
Secondly I want to raise awareness of this issue so more people are aware how much content is edited online, with a focus on young people being made more aware of what is normal. This is important for them feeling comfortable in their own skin.
Q. How has the pandemic impacted social media use and mental health?
The pandemic has meant young people have spent more time at home and online. This means they are seeing more content than ever that is edited or filtered, and it is having a disastrous effect on their self-esteem.
The number of under-20s ending up in hospital over the past year topped 3,200 – a 50 per cent increase on 2019-20.
Bupa UK research revealed:
46 per cent of teenagers surveyed altered their eating habits during lockdown
84 per cent admitted restricting the food they ate for a sense of control
41 per cent felt control when they ate more
There was a 132 per cent increase in the Google search ‘types of eating disorders’
Eating disorder charities reported a huge increase in calls to their helplines as people struggled with the first wave of panic buying when supermarkets, often a main source of controlling food for those with a disorder, ran out of essentials.
Young people with obsessive traits, often locked into exercise regimes common to eating disorders, experienced high levels of distress when gyms, leisure centres, and other outlets for their behaviours closed.
Q. What role can the beauty industry play in encouraging women to love themselves as they are (without necessarily buying into their products)?