The Connection Between Physical Appearance & Depression

I caught a post on Reddit and it got me thinking about the broader connections between physical appearance – well, really, more like self-perceived physical appearance – and depression. The results, as you can probably imagine, are not particularly pretty.

First, the study in question. A new survey shows that there is a strong correlation between rates of depression and perceived physical appearance. According to the study, 61% of people suffer from some form of body dissatisfaction. Strikingly, a study found that body dissatisfaction at the age of 14 was related to increased risk of depression as a teenager gets older. Those risks varied, but could increase depression risks by 50% – 285%. Interestingly enough, the severity of the depression was higher in women than in men, somewhat counterintuitively. The study does not that increasing body satisfaction can potentially reduce depression in teenagers.

As usual, standard disclaimer: Correlation does not equal causation, and it is very difficult to determine whether or not the body dissatisfaction causes the depression, if the reverse is true, or if there is another factor that makes these levels of depression and body dissatisfaction occur.

However, this obviously isn’t the first piece of research that makes a direction connection between body dissatisfaction and depression, and many other studies have made this connection in the past.

So, what do we do here? Of course, increasing body satisfaction is an obvious solution, but…good luck with that. I still sort of hate the way I look and I’m 37. I mean, really. How many people like the way they look?

I’m starting to veer into an area that I’ve done in the past, but again, I’d point out that this is yet another example of broader cultural connections making a big input on our mental state. Indeed, I would love to see more research on this topic. The above study, for example, took place in the United Kingdom. Other studies, like this one from Singapore, have made similar findings. This begs the question: How severe is this connection in America? Given the cultural and financial value we tend to place on issues of looks in America, I’d bet that the connections are very strong. But…what about countries that don’t culturally emphasize physical appearance the way that we do? Do they have the same level of connection between body satisfaction and depression?

I’d bet no. And if I’m right about that guess, this is even further proof: Issues of mental illness simply cannot be separated from broader cultural and societal priorities.

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