Let’s be honest. Most, if not all of us, care about how we look. Our appearance is a vital part of our identity. However, some people have a tendency to take it to the extreme. They are so concerned about how a certain body part looks that it starts to affect their life, in a negative way of course! They might spend hours a day looking in the mirror or staying at home and avoiding social interactions because of how they look. These are signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
BDD is a little-known mental health disorder that makes a person obsessed about a perceived defect in his or her appearance. In many cases, this “defect” might be a figment of their imagination. In other cases, it might be an exaggeration of something that does exist. This sounds like every one of us to a certain extent, right? Where the line is crossed is whether the person’s paranoia affects his or her everyday interactions or decisions.
The most common complaints are issues about the face such as wrinkles, scars or acne. However, it does not only have to be the face. Other sufferers are obsessed about their imperfect breasts, butt, abdomen, figure, or pretty much any combination of body parts. In some cases it might even be a few body parts!
So where is the line between a person concerned with his or her looks and a person with BDD? Once again this is not as clear cut as it seems. However, if you know of someone who spends hours each day obsessing about an imperfection on their body, or finding ways to hide that body part from both his/her own and the public eye, chances are that this person has BDD. That person may also constantly be talking about it and asking for reassurance from others – reassurance that would not be effective to them anyway.
So how many people are thought to suffer from this? According to some studies, the figure lies between one and five percent of the population. Obviously, the numbers would rise if you conduct this survey at skin centre or cosmetic surgery clinics. Statistically, most sufferers begin to have BDD in their adolescent years. I don’t think you are surprised at that finding, are you?
So is BDD a serious condition? To be honest, the answer is yes! Just ask a sufferer about his or her feelings towards the perceived flaw and he or she will probably go into great detail about how much of a mental torment it is. Furthermore, the intentional escape from the public eye may lead to social isolation, which of course, is a bit of a ticking time-bomb, allowing him or her to wallow in the thoughts of imperfections. This can then turn into a negative cycle.
In more serious cases, suicidal ideation and hospitalisation is not uncommon. Conservative figures estimate that 80% of BDD sufferers show signs of suicide ideation. The scary part is that BDD sufferers are up to 40% more likely to succeed in their suicide attempts compared to other people with suicidal ideation.
So what are the causes of BDD? In reality, no one knows for sure. However, in most cases it is a combination of various factors that work similarly to a self-fulfilling prophecy, almost. It is thought to be a combination of any of these factors: genetics, childhood experiences, general self-esteem issues, long-term stress, and/or chemical imbalances in the brain.
What do you think you should do if you know of someone who has BDD, or if you suspect that you might have it yourself? (I wouldn’t be too surprised because this is, after all, a fitness blog!). The answer is that professional help is always the way to go if you feel that it is severe enough. Be prepared though, because the correct mental health professionals will make you face your fear head-on.
Do not be afraid of the treatments for BDD, as long as it is by a mental health professional. You should go through it for your own long-term welfare. Chances are that you will first be put on Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), before possibly being introduced to suitable medication.
Hope this helps,
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