The founders of students’ Emotional Fitness app Fika have spoken out on the toxicity of today’s image-focused online culture for young people’s emotional health.

Speaking out for Mental Health Awareness Week this week, Fika co-founder and CEO Nick Bennett said: “We know from conversations with our university partners and our own PhD-led focus groups that today’s students feel enormous pressure to look a certain way – and that the desire to present a perfect image and attract likes and followers on social media compounds this pressure.

“We need to be mindful of the negative impact our image-focused culture can have on the development of young people's self-confidence, and the ripple effect that has on their wellbeing, relationships and careers.”

The Fika app offers guided packs and exercises to help young people build self-confidence, empathy and emotional resilience – drawing the focus away from image and enabling young people to connect with each other on a more meaningful level.

The app, which is in closed trial partnerships with universities including Exeter, Lincoln, Manchester Metropolitan, Bath Spa and Coventry University Students’ Union: London Campus, has been praised by both students and staff for the benefits it offers for students’ wellbeing, relationships and academic performance.

Dr Roger Bretherton, Principal Lecturer (Enterprise), School of Psychology, University of Lincoln, said:

“Our data from students confirms that good body image goes hand in hand with psychological wellbeing, especially for those who appreciate what they have now and believe in a better future.

"That’s why conversations that inspire gratitude and hope are core to psychological health, and central to the Fika app.”

Sara Gallagher, Head of Student Support at Bath Spa University, said:

“We know the challenges our students experience and the level of pressure they feel under, particularly from social media. Having access to resources like Fika offers real potential for our students to focus on themselves and to help build their confidence to prioritise their own feelings and perceptions of self.”

Fika’s comments come days after the Mental Health Foundation revealed a report showing a third of British adults feel depressed or anxious about their body image. The survey found that social media and images used in advertising play a significant role in how people feel about their bodies – with almost half of 18-24-year-olds blaming social media for provoking body image anxieties, and one in five blaming advertising.

The Fika app does not require users to upload photos of themselves. Instead, they create a profile based on the areas of their emotional health they want to work on – from “learning from the past” and “creating positive habits” to more practical themes like “communication skills” and “managing time”.

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Sir Anthony Seldon, author, historian, educationalist and Vice Chancellor of the University of Buckingham, said:

“As a society, we have become obsessed not with quality of life issues - love, relationships, happiness - but with quantifiable measures of success: exam results, social media likes, affluence and achievement. This obsession is fuelling the mental health crisis in our young people. It is driving students apart, making them lonelier and more disconnected than ever.

“At the University of Buckingham, we wholeheartedly support Fika’s mission to rebuild society around more meaningful values - empathy, confidence, genuine emotional connections. We very much look forward to tracking their success as they roll out across universities nationwide.”

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