BDD; the inner bully
Modern Family actor Reid Ewing has spent thousands on plastic surgery due to its impact. Lady Gaga has opened up about the mental anguish she suffers at its hands. More than 1 in 100 people are diagnosed with it. Despite these horrifying statistics, Body Dysmorphia Disorder (BDD) remains one of the most severely under acknowledged mental conditions, with many professionals being left untrained in recognising its presence. So, what is this disorder, and why isn’t more being done to reduce its devasting impact?
Body Dysmorphia is a difficult beast to define. Let’s start with the clinical: an obsession with a perceived or slight flaw of physical character, resulting in significant stress and impairment. More specifically, suffers are said to characterise an unhealthy relationship with their appearance, believing something is incoherently wrong with the way they look. This flaw may be realistically small, or not even exist, but easily starts to control the victim’s life. Coupled with the increased risk of eating and mood disorders as well as an overwhelming sense of paranoia that those close to you are lying about its importance, it’s easy to see how this is perhaps one of the most dangerous mental illnesses to affect the population.
Let’s look at some facts:
· A sufferer of BDD is 45% more likely to commit suicide compared to a standard member of society.
· Psychologists report a fairly even balance between male and female victims, however males are more vulnerable to a sub-type called muscle dysmorphia. Similar to BDD, this affects an individual’s relationships with muscular growth, resulting in a similar obsessive outlook.
· It is not understood why BDD comes about, but it could be related to past trauma, exposure to unhealthy relationships with appearance or perhaps even a genetic influence.
· BDD is one of the most commonly mis-diagnosed mental illnesses due to its over lapping symptoms with depression, anxiety and eating disorders.
It is true that most individuals have felt the wrath of low self-confidence before. It is no secret that social media is widely blamed for today’s generation’s preoccupation with physical standards. However, it is when these symptoms become life-limiting that BDD may be at play.
Sadly, like Reid Ewing, many victims turn to cosmetic surgery to assist with what they perceive as their flaw, in hopes of reducing their suffering. 23% of cosmetic surgeons have identified a time they spent with a patient who they believe could have been suffering from BDD. Yet, with so little awareness this easily becomes an unhealthy relationship, and a vicious circle. Cosmetic surgery is not the answer, so what is?
The current belief is that cognitive behavioural therapy in addition to anti-depressant/anxiety medicine is the most beneficial route of action. However, despite some success with these therapy types, it has been reported that in many cases they are not 100% effective. What these statistics suggest is that the knowledge and expertise into BDD is far too limited, and there is certainly a pressing need to increase awareness about its existence. Charities such as the BDD foundation and Mind UK work closely with the public to begin to establish a healthy outlook of mental illness. With so much stigma still surrounding mental health, it is frightening to think how much work there is still to do. Once we fix the foundational relationships and judgements of mental illness, we can hope to begin to heal this mental illness crisis.