Obese people, those defined as having a body mass index of 30 and above, are increasingly susceptible to experiencing poor mental health. By 'poor mental health', we refer to people who have suffered with anxiety, heightened stress, and depression; which can entail thoughts of suicide. In Hackney, severe mental health (classed as psychosis, bipolar and schizophrenia) is particularly prevalent amongst 25-50 year olds.

The population of Hackney is estimated at 257,000. Hackney is also a very diverse borough; with Turkish, Vietnamese, Black African, Black Caribbean, and a large Jewish community. Perhaps these different cultures may help us to understand why there are underlying issues with mental health in the borough. Young black men and Black Caribbean communities are believed to be at a greater risk of depression. The exact reasons are unclear, but may be attributed to barriers with employment and education, language issues and feelings of isolation, or indeed other health problems that manifest.

What we wish to understand is does obesity induce poor mental health, or is poor mental health the byproduct of being obese?

Argument one- Obesity causes depression

Those who are obese may develop low self esteem, through feeling embarrassed of their appearance.They may also be the subject of bullying from others. This can reduce their self confidence, their enjoyment in trying new activities, and cause the individual to become socially isolated.

Argument two-Depression causes obesity

Those who are depressed may develop low self worth to the extent that they physically neglect themselves- this can include overeating, not eating healthy food options; and becoming sedentary. Depression is a complex disorder, and can be caused by a myriad of factors; such as family history, poverty and homelessness, poor education, or a family breakdown. Hackney, along with Tower Hamlets, is one of London's most socially deprived boroughs, which may contribute to poor mental health. People in this category may chose to overeat to cope with stressful situations, regain a sense of emotional control over a challenging life event; or eat as a form of escapism. 

Why this is problematic

Once a cycle of negative feelings overwhelms the individual they can lose interest in activities they once enjoyed, cut off friends and family; and become socially isolated. This could perpetuate other harmful behaviours, such as alcohol and drug abuse abuse.

What are the solutions?

Both these arguments have merit. Indeed low self esteem and depression could lead to self neglect and therefore weight gain; whereas obesity could promote depression through feelings of social stigma, discrimination, and affecting one's confidence to the extent where they become socially isolated.

1. Speak to your GP- they can refer you to mental health professionals with the right skills and training. Referrals can entail group therapy, or even one to one counselling. This type of therapy can even be conducted over the phone.

2. Getting outdoors- although you may not want to leave you own home, getting outdoors can get you in touch with nature; which can offset feelings of worry. Try and find a place of natural beauty, such as a park, river, lake or garden to clear your negative thoughts. Hackney has over 58 parks, open spaces, and gardens, and is one of London's 'greenest boroughs'.

3. Forming a social network- meeting with friends, or indeed meeting new people can trigger the 'feel good' brain chemical dopamine; increasing perceptions of happiness. Why not join a new activity or group; such as a music or art class? 

4. Sticking to a routine- trying to stick to a set routine, such as waking at the same time each day, taking the dog for a walk, attending your weekly piano lesson, and even having three set meals allows us to maintain a sense of self control over our own feelings. 

5. Make a list of all the positive attributes in life - For all the negative feelings that wear us down, write a counter argument which makes you feel thankful. This could be having a partner that loves you, having children, family that live close by, or even a family pet. This task will help to deflect from the negative and help you to refocus on what make's life special.