Headshot of Suzanne Samaka

An interview with Suzanne Samaka

Suzanna Samaka is a mental health campaigner for young people and the founder of the #HonestyAboutEditing campaign. Her mission is to protect the mental health of future generations from negative body image and low self-esteem from digitally edited content on social media.

She set up her Change.org petition as a result of witnessing first-hand the impact that negative body image can have on individuals and the ripple effect on families and their circles.

Suzanne, tell us about your ‘why’. What or who is it about?

How can I make a difference to the mental health of our young people? That was my question and it hit me like a lightning bolt one evening whilst watching TV with my partner.

To give some context to my life, I am a stepmother to four children, have a two-year-old daughter, and have just had my second baby. I also work full time in banking and have done for almost 16 years.

Sadly, for the past four years, a member of our family has suffered from anorexia. It is fair to say we will never know the root cause of this and maybe neither will they. However, it’s apparent that they are not alone in the anxiety, depression, physical, and mental health challenges that they have faced in their adolescent years.

I’ve been to eating disorder in-patient clinics and I have always been shocked and saddened by how full these units are with adolescent girls and boys alike.

The stats don’t lie. In the UK, nine out of every ten girls with low body esteem put their health at risk by not seeing a doctor or by skipping meals. 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 survey results found that Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were all linked to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness. More than two-thirds (68%) of young people surveyed support social media platforms highlighting when a photo has been manipulated.

The statistics don’t lie but I have also been contacted by many young people who fully agree with this concept to positively support their own mental health.

In trying to evoke change, I started a petition to amend the social media laws to state when an image has been filtered or digitally amended. This is now the law in several countries, Norway being the most recent.

If it can happen there, then why not in the UK? I’ve created my campaign to protect young people’s mental health from low self-esteem and negative body image. I want to ensure they are aware of real vs. fake online so that they don’t aspire to something that is not achievable.

Who will it help/who has it helped already?

The change that’s being asked for will actually help everyone young and old. My focus, though, is on young people, as I believe it is such an important time in someone’s life to build their resilience and confidence in themselves.

Also, the mental health challenges I have already mentioned can leave lifelong scars and take an extremely long time to recover from. I’m very focused on changing the stigma with regard to mental health challenges and negative body image in boys and young men.

With the growing problem of muscle dysmorphia, a worrying form of body dysmorphia disorder, there needs to be much more awareness of this terrifying trend as it has a higher suicide attempt risk than other forms of body dysmorphia.

What’s worked?

It is without exception that everyone I have spoken to about the #HonestyAboutEditing campaign assumed it was the law already or that it should be.

So for me, what has worked is that the ask is a very easy ‘sell’ to people of all walks of life; parents, teachers, young people who feel under pressure, social workers, the list goes on.

I have also decided to embark on this campaign with no previous knowledge of how to reach a network wider than my own but people have been extremely generous with their time, support and advice. LinkedIn has been a fantastic tool and the social media platform that has worked best for amplifying the reach of the campaign.

What have you learned? Any challenges?

I have learned that people viewing the campaign doesn’t necessarily transfer into signatures, especially on social media platforms such as Instagram. The campaign has been viewed in excess of 31,000 times but that has only achieved 1,730 signatures.

It has been a big learning curve that just because someone agrees with the importance of something, this doesn’t necessarily transfer into them taking action.

What’s next?

I am currently working with a number of MPs, the office of Luke Evans MP as well as Dean Russell MP, who is my local MP. Dean Russell is firmly behind this and shortly hosting me for his podcast to amplify the reach of the campaign.

I am also working with a number of eating disorder charities that fully support the campaign and are creating resources for schools and youth environments to use.

There is continuing support from individuals and organisations who want to help get the campaign shared and recognised further. Petition signatures help to lobby the government for this issue to be debated in Parliament.

It also helps create a movement aside from the changes in the law, which can help young people, create awareness and destigmatise the issues.

What advice, contacts, or resources would help you?

Any advice or contacts who can continue to amplify the campaign, allow it to be shared, and hopefully organically grow alongside any work I continue to put in. I’m also very keen to try and progress this in the media so any advice or contacts in this regard would be hugely helpful.

You can sign and share her petition here.

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