With Mental Health Awareness month having come to a close in May, and the end of the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, it’s important to continue to acknowledge that mental illness still affects people 365 days of the year, and that it isn’t uncommon either.
1 in 5 people in Canada lives with a mental illness¹, and in our lifetimes almost half of us will have had, or have experienced a mental illness. While mental illness is part of being human, and all of us will experience some form of mental illness in our lifetime, 75% of people impacted won’t ask for help.
While 8 West Clinic is a Cosmetic Surgery and Skin Aesthetics Clinic, we understand the correlation between medical aesthetics and mental wellness. We take both very seriously; with positive and empathetic attitudes towards mental health and wellbeing residing as one of our core values – for both our staff and patients.
Mental health, self-identity, self-esteem, self-confidence, shame, stigma, fear and understanding mental illness all have their parts to play with how we present ourselves to the world and how we progress on our mental wellness journey. Some journey’s will never find themselves in a place where they wish to change something about their appearance, but then again, mental wellness journey’s are not all the same.
Mental Wellness and Self-Identity
Mental health and wellness is a complex topic, and there isn’t a universal pathway or single journey to take to achieve a fulfilling life; it is individual and bespoke. For some, appearance and self-image plays a larger role within their mental wellness journey than it does for others, and what forms this takes is something that is as varied as it is valid.
Within the last 18-months, the COVID-19 pandemic has compelled many to work from home and adopt a rigorous Zoom schedule in an attempt to mimic daily work life. During a Zoom meeting, have you perhaps caught a glance at yourself and thought “oh gosh, I look old”, or “is my jowl really that big?” to then instantly readjust your camera angle, put on a face mask or turn off video? If you said “yes,” then chances are that you’re not alone.
Prior to 2020/2021, we may have had similar thoughts when scrolling through our Instagram, and before that may even have been looking through photos from the family vacation. These thoughts and feelings aren’t uncommon, and at some time or another in our life we are faced with moments of looking different on the outside to how we feel on the inside, and want to take steps to change this to improve our mood or self-confidence.
Self-identity is something that all of us possess, it is an incredibly powerful driving force and is a fundamental part of our mental wellness journey. It is the all-embracing vision of how we perceive ourselves, and in turn how we wish others to perceive us. If our self-perception or presentation is off, then this can result in stress, anxiety or even depression. It is therefore no surprise that our physical appearance plays a part in our self-identity and therefore mental wellness, as we work to ensure that how we look on the outside reflects how we feel on the inside. For one person it may be dressing in clothes they feel sexy in, or taking pride in their physical fitness; for another it may be Botox to treat premature signs of aging; and in some circumstances it can be surgeries to help a person confirm their personal gender identity.
So while surgery, or medical aesthetic treatments won’t remove the presence of mental illness such as anxiety, depression or stress, it can work to help someone with their self-identity and therefore relieve some of these elements, helping people take positive steps on their mental wellness journey.
Stigma and Stereotypes
It is no huge surprise to say that there is a bit of a stigma attached to the cosmetic surgery industry. Taking care and pride in one’s physical appearance is often paired with very negative and harsh stereotypes. The fear of being associated with a stereotype, and the stigma and prejudice that comes with them all work to undermine a person’s mental health and wellbeing, as well as self-identity. But why is caring about your appearance considered something to be ashamed of? Why do these stereotypes exist, and why are there stigmas created around our appearance, when it is something most (if not all of us) place some level of importance on – and for good reason too.
As human’s, we are considered a social species, meaning that socializing has been fundamental to our survival and development. As modern day humans, it holds true that socializing directly impacts our health and wellbeing; whether it be friendships, work relationships or family. We want to create connections, spend time with the people we love, and have a fulfilling social life. This is where self-esteem and self-confidence can come into play, because if we don’t feel good about ourselves, this can impair our ability to engage in social situations. Having positive self-esteem and self-confidence is usually an amalgamation of factors, for example having a fulfilling career, participating in a beloved hobby, or feeling good about how you look. It is different for everyone, but all feed into our personal esteem and confidence, and therefore can affect how we feel and our desire to enter into some social scenarios.
The stigma surrounding taking pride in one’s appearance needs to end, because not only is it incredibly dangerous to a person’s mental health and wellbeing, it is counteractive to a very real human experience. So what if someone wants some Botox, fillers or a surgery, to look and feel your best self? If that is what somebody wants to help confirm their self-identity, and to help raise their self-esteem and confidence, then that is part of their unique mental wellness journey.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Something important to address, and a condition that we come across from time-to-time are patients with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – which affects about 1 in 50 people². This is where people perceive certain physical flaws in their face and/or body, and sometimes turn to certain surgical or aesthetic procedures to “correct” these flaws. Dr Buonassisi and our staff are very sensitive to people who may show symptoms of BDD, and we understand the difference between patients wanting to gain confidence in their appearance, and those wanting to change it based on an unrealistic and misleading self-image.
The symptoms of BDD may look like:
While we are not psychologists or counsellors, and while we empathize and care deeply for all of our patients, we always suggest reaching out to a mental health professional for help. If you believe that you, or someone you love, may suffer from BDD, please speak to your family doctor or seek a specialist in BDD. Resources can be found at bddfoundation.org, including online assessments that will help you get started in evaluating yourself.
You Are Beautiful – Inside, and Out.
As mentioned, we aren’t psychologists or counsellors at 8 West Clinic, but a core value that all of us here pride ourselves on is empathy and sensitivity. We are 100% committed to complete patient confidentiality, and we can help connect patients with resources if they fear they may have BDD or other mental or medical health issues. Our clinic doesn’t simply provide treatments, surgeries and products – we want to get to know you and provide options to help you reach realistic goals. This is why our motto is “confidence feels good” – we understand that there is more to it than how we look, it’s about how we feel.
Everyone has a unique journey when it comes to living a fulfilling life, with a healthy body, mind and spirit. Physical and mental health are two sides of the same coin, but very often physical health is prioritized, while mental health is overlooked.
The importance of looking after your body, your appearance and physical health is always a priority, but should never be at the expense of our mental health – which should share the same level of importance in your life.
Just like looking after our physical health and visiting your family doctor when you have a cold or have injured yourself, it is just as important to check in with how we are feeling and to reach out for mental health support when we need it.
Within Canada alone there are dozens of fully confidential resources for people to get the support they need when it comes to mental health. We all deserve to feel as beautiful on the inside as we do on the outside, and it is never too late to ask for help.
British Columbia Resources: www.healthlinkbc.ca/mental-health
Indigenous and First Nation’s people: http://www.namhr.ca/mental-health-programs/
Women’s Mental Health: https://womensmentalhealth.org/resource/
LGBTQIA2S+ People: https://qmunity.ca/
People living with disabilities: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/
1. Source: Canadian Mental Health Association. Fast Facts about Mental Illness – https://cmha.ca/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/
2. Source: Katharine Phillips, MD. International OCD Foundation – Prevalence of BDD. https://bdd.iocdf.org/professionals/prevalence/