Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder where a person spends a lot of time worrying about their flaws in appearance. These flaws usually go unnoticed by other people. BDD can occur at any age but is most common in teenagers and young adults and affects both men and women.
What is it?
Symptoms of BDD include obsessions such as excessive worrying about a specific area of your body (especially your face) and spending a lot of time comparing your looks with others and compulsions such as constantly looking in the mirror or picking at your skin.
These behaviours can cause emotional distress and significantly impact your ability to get on with life. For example, the concerns around appearance may make it very hard to go out in public or even be around other people, ultimately impacting your relationships with other people and your work/social life. It can also lead to depression, self-harm and thoughts of suicide.
No one knows what exactly causes BDD, but research suggests that there are a number of factors that can contribute to the development of it. These include:
- Trauma – previous experiences of bullying and abuse can lead to you developing a negative sense of self (especially in adolescent years when you are more conscious about the changes your body is making)
- Perfectionism – if you regularly compare your appearance to others, you may be more likely to develop BDD, especially if you have a job or a hobby that if really focused on your body e.g. modelling, bodybuilding etc
- Depression, anxiety or OCD – people with other mental health issues such as these are more likely to develop BDD, however it isn’t clear whether these other mental health issues cause BDD or if BDD causes these other mental health issues.
- Genetics – research has found that you are more likely to develop BDD if a member of your family has it. However, it’s difficult to know whether symptoms derive from your parents genes or are just picked up from their behaviour.
How can I help myself?
Take time to practice self-care! Look after yourself – this includes eating well and doing things that you enjoy. You might also find it helpful to join a support group and speak to other people with BDD more more information and advice on coping with BDD.
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy that focuses on your thoughts, feelings and behaviours. CBT for treating BDD will help you learn what triggers your symptoms and will teach you different ways to deal with them. It involves you gradually facing situations that would usually make you feel anxious about your appearance and finding other ways to deal with your feelings without feeling self-conscious.
- Medication – you may be prescribed an antidepressant called a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI). This will help with the symptoms you are experiencing. SSRIs can cause unpleasant side-effects so it is important to communicate your experiences with your doctor to find what works for you.