Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an anxiety disorder that causes a person to have a distorted view of how they look and causes them to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance. It is estimated that one in every hundred people is affected by BDD, although this may be an underestimate as people with the condition often hide it from others.
One in five people with the condition undergo cosmetic procedures but worryingly only two per cent of them experience a reduction in the severity of their condition after their treatment reveal researchers, according to a study which was recently published in ‘Annals of Plastic Surgery’. Despite the poor result, cosmetic surgeons continued to be inundated with requests to perform surgery on those with BDD.
“A majority of these individuals believe they have an actual deformity that can be corrected by cosmetic treatments to fix these perceived defects rather than seeking psychiatric interventions”, study co-author Dr. Katherine A. Phillips, director of the body image program at Rhode Island Hospital, said in a hospital release.
The causes of BDD are still unknown. “We know it runs in families and that there is a strong genetic component, but that doesn’t explain the whole picture”, says Dr David Mataix-Cols, a professor and consultant clinical psychologist at the Institute of Psychiatry and at the Maudsley Hospital, London, which has ramped up its service for young people with BDD within the past year.
He also listed factors such as ‘appearance-related teasing’ and bullying. “It’s not clear if they simply trigger pre-existing vulnerability or whether they have a proper causal effect”, he adds.
The point on which experts agree is the severity of the condition. Sufferers are compelled to take steps to mitigate the ‘disaster’ that they see in the mirror. Samantha Davies was only thirteen when she began suffering from BDD. First, she tried hiding behind make-up. She would use so much foundation that ‘Her face was just orange, like a mask” recalls her mother. After three months she decided that she was too ugly to be seen so she confined herself to her room and refused to go to school. Eventually, Samantha took an overdose. Her reaction, when she came into the hospital, was a large indicator about her condition with her thought being: “what do I look like?”
People with BDD often seek cosmetic surgery and around a quarter of BDD sufferers have actually had it. Others choose to simply avoid other people, often even leading young sufferers to drop out of school. “It is terrible for the young person’s development because being around other people is extremely painful and anxiety-provoking, and in severe cases they can become housebound”, Dr Mataix-Cols says. BDD also increases higher risks of suicide amongst sufferers at a rate forty five times higher than the general population.
Yet despite BDD being such a common and serious problem, it is often under-reported and consequently under treated as those with the condition are often concerned that they will be considered vain and superficial. If you believe you are suffering from body dysmorphic disorder then please contact your GP before going ahead with any surgical procedures.