You may well have heard of conditions such as anorexia and bulimia, however, a disorder which is less well known, yet just as common, and can potentially be the cause of serious eating disorders and other mental health conditions, is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) or body dysmorphia.
Body dysmorphia is a mental health condition in which predominately affects teenagers and young adults. Sufferers believe they have specific flaws with their appearance, and as a result spend a lot of time worrying about them. The majority of us will dislike something about our appearance, however, although we might not be particularly happy about it, it doesn’t affect our every day lives. For those with BDD, the effects of worrying about the flaws they believe they have (which are often unnoticeable to others), have a huge impact on their lives.
Some of the symptoms of BDD include:
- Worrying about a specific area of your body
- Spending a lot of time comparing your looks to others
- Looking at yourself in mirrors a lot, or avoiding mirrors completely
- Going to a lot effort to conceal flaws e.g. applying make-up, combing your hair or picking out clothes
- Compulsive behaviours and routines, for example skin picking
As with the all mental health conditions, we aren’t entirely sure what causes body dysmorphia, however, research has found that it may be associated with the following:
- Genetics – if a close relative suffers from BDD, OCD or depression, you are more likely to develop BDD.
- Behavioural – again, if a close relative or someone you live with has BDD, you are more likely to develop the condition. Children growing up with an adult with BDD are likely to mimic their behaviours, and therefore, develop the condition through copying their behaviours.
- A chemical imbalance in the brain – like many other mental health conditions, those with BDD’s have been found to have abnormal amounts of certain chemicals in their brains.
- A past traumatic experience – if you were teased, bullied or abused as a child, you are more likely to develop BDD.
- Other mental health conditions – if you have another mental health conditions such as OCD, depression, anxiety, or an eating disorder; you are more likely to develop BDD.
As much as social media has its advantages, unfortunately, and more so recently, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have had a lot of negative press regarding their influence on mental health problems. Social media has become an extension of ourselves, particularly amongst those aged 13-25 who have been labelled ‘Generation Selfie’. We no longer post a picture without applying a filter, airbrushing it, or editing it in some way to make us look like, in essence, someone that isn’t us! As a result, our social media feeds are full of pictures of people that have been doctored so much, they are no longer look like themselves. Young people see these pictures, and set themselves unrealistic standards of what they think they should look like, and sadly, this is what can contribute to developing mental health conditions such as body dysmorphia.
If you think you, or someone close to you has BDD, first steps to overcoming the condition is by visiting your GP. A discussion with your GP will help you establish how severe your symptoms are and what kind of treatment is best for you. Although taking this initial step is difficult, it is important that you take it as without any medical intervention, your symptoms probably won’t go away.
Seeking help can be daunting as we don’t know what the outcome of seeking help will be. In the majority of cases, there are 2 possible actions that your GP will take:
1. Refer you to a Cognitive Behavioural Specialist – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) can help you manage your symptoms by changing your thought processes and behaviour. It helps you learn what triggers your symptoms and teaches you different ways of dealing with them.
2. Prescribe SSRI’s – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors are a type of antidepressant. They help to alter the amount of serotonin in your brain, which can help to reduce your BDD symptoms.
In Summary: body dysmorphia is a mental health condition that affects many young people, yet, isn’t very well known. The symptoms of BDD can have a huge impact on someones life and can eventually lead to other mental health conditions and eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Because of this, it is important that we raise awareness of this condition with the hope that it helps young people recognise the symptoms in themselves, and encourages them to reach out and seek help.