Although low self-esteem is not categorized as a mental health condition in itself, there are clear links between the way we feel about ourselves and our overall mental and emotional wellbeing. U.K.-based charity, Teenage Minds, defines self-esteem as “how a person feels about themselves and what they do.” So a person with high self-esteem believes they are a good person; they can recognize their good qualities and will generally strive for a happy and successful life. Someone with low self-esteem has negative feelings about themselves, believing that they are not worthy of love, happiness or success.
With research linking low self-esteem to mental health issues and poor quality-of-life, this is a potentially dangerous way to live. Here are just a few ways that low self-esteem can affect mental health and how you can try and improve yours:
- Poor Relationships. As humans, we strive to interact with others and the relationships we have with those closest to us help define us as people. So negative relationships ultimately equal negative feelings and a negative perception of ourselves.
- Addiction. Psychological studies indicate that low self-esteem in childhood and early adulthood can be a predisposition to addiction in later life. Many addicts use substances such as drugs or alcohol to help ease the negative feelings they have about themselves. But over time this method of escapism develops into an addiction and of course this has detrimental effects on their already depleted self-esteem levels.
- Depression and anxiety. Low self-esteem tends to work in a vicious cycle with other mental health conditions like depression and anxiety. It's hard to say which comes first, only that the combination is both common and troublesome. Someone who already lives with a mental illness may find that low self-esteem develops due to the social stigma surrounding mental illness. Stigma can perpetuate the feeling that they have somehow failed.
Building self-esteem is crucial. When we learn to love ourselves, we strive for a better life—a happier relationship, a more fulfilling career or recovery from addiction. But changing the deep-rooted feelings we have about ourselves isn't easy and often experts recommend some form of therapy (usually Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) to get to the underlying reasons behind our negative thoughts about ourselves.
The key then is to challenge and adjust these negative thoughts into more positive ones. Learning to value and care for your mind and body through a healthy lifestyle is also important. Good diet, exercise and meditation can be the first stepping stones in reclaiming physical and emotional confidence. Fully engaging with those we love is important. Feeling loved and supported (and being able to offer love and support in return) is a wonderful way to start increasing self-esteem. If you don't have any immediate friends or family then consider joining a support group or even volunteering. Helping others is a great way to help yourself.
Now a writer, Anne Gold worked previously in the mental health sector. She's someone who has battled her own problems with depression and anxiety and firmly believes that to be able to help others, you have to help yourself. Now that she's a mother, she's more acutely aware of staying well and promoting good mental health to others.