Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) -The Hidden Epidemic- Facts You Need to Know

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a serious  and debilitating mental health problem in which people fixate on imagined body flaws to the point where the individuals sometime commit suicide rather than face another day.  Body Dysmorphic Disorder  impacts over 5 million people in The United States, yet is is not as well known as other mental health problems.   Here are the facts you need to know:

BDD is different for men and women – Women with BDD usually fixate on the appearance of their face.  Men will often, although not always, fixate on the size and muscle tone of their bodies.

BDD is a serious life-threatening mental illness.  People do not understand the severity of BDD.  After all, none of us are completely happy with the way we look.  However, people with BDD have taken this to such an extreme that their lives become impossible to live normally.  They may become afraid to leave the house for fear that people are staring and taking about how ugly they are.  They are afraid to pass a mirror, or else sit for hours staring into a mirror crying. When they come to the conclusion that their “flaw” will never disappear, they may actually kill themselves.

Marilyn Monroe suffered from BDD and eventually committed suicide

Marilyn Monroe suffered from BDD and eventually committed suicide

Many celebrities have suffered from BDD. This includes, Andy Warhol, Marilyn Monroe and Sarah Michelle Geller.  Marilyn was unhappy most of her life and eventually committed suicide.  Andy Warhol was convinced that his nose was bright red, although it was not.  He went so far as to have a plastic surgeon sand his nose. Many people with BDD will undergo unnecessary and often dangerous plastic surgery. These surgeries  do not fix BDD, since the problem is psychological. No matter how successful the surgery, people with BDD will still consider themselves ugly.

Andy Warhol had severe BDD.

Andy Warhol had severe BDD.

People with BDD do not look sick. In fact they may look great. Because there is nothing actually physically wrong with people with BDD and because they are so concerned with their appearance, they often look very attractive. If someone has  anorexia,  the extreme weight loss is obvious to friends and family who then try to get help for that that person. However, people with Body Dysmorphia look and are physically healthy.

People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder hide the condition. In our society, we make fun of people we consider vain.  People with BDD don’t want to be considered “vain” or “weird”, so they tell people that everything is fine.

Sarah Michelle Geller had suffered from BDD for many years.

Sarah Michelle Geller has suffered from BDD for many years.

People with BDD will never believe you when you tell them they look good . Once someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder focuses on a “flaw” nothing you say will be able to dissuade the person that the flaw does not exist.  Telling them to forget about it won’t work. This would be like telling someone with a broken leg to just get up and start walking.

People with BDD will take extreme, dangerous steps to try to correct an imagined flaw.  Women who see imagines blemishes on their face may begin to scratch at them trying to remove them. This can eventually cause rips in the skin and real scars. Men may take huge, life-threatening amounts of steroids or other drugs trying to achieve an impossibly large physique.

BDD and OCD are not the same. Although BDD and OCD have many similar characteristics they are not the same. BDD is a very specific obsession and is often misdiagnosed by psychiatrists and psychologists as OCD.   This is a problem, since the treatments are different.

The girl in the mirror will never look good enough for someone with BDD

The girl in the mirror will never look good enough for someone with BDD

Successful treatment is possible but the feeling never goes away completely. People with Body Dysmorphic disorder can lead healthy, happy lives, but there will be periodic relapses.  In some ways it is like an addiction. There is no such thing as an ex-addict or an ex-alcoholic. People with those issues will say that the problem is always lurking in the background. BDD is the same. It can be handled with mental health professional treatment, but it must always be actively guarded against. One of the best books ever written about what it is like to have mental illness is I Don’t Want To Be Crazy by Samantha Schutz. In this book of poetry, Samantha Schutz writes:

                                        I am in a house.

                                       I am in one room, and my anxiety is in another.

                                      It’s close. I can feel it. I can go to it.

                                     But I won’t.

Those courageous words demonstrate clearly the years long lonely struggle people with mental illness face.

Most psychiatrists or psychologists do not specialize in Body Dysmorphic Disorder.  Therefore, it is important that if you or someone you love needs help you find the right treatment. Don’t be afraid to ask doctors how much they know about BDD, and if they have treated anyone with this condition before.

Hopefully this article has been helpful. Please look up more about this condition. If we have gotten even one person with Body Dyrmorphic Disorder to seek help, then  we will consider this blog a success.

3 thoughts on “Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) -The Hidden Epidemic- Facts You Need to Know

  1. This explains my daughter’s behaviors. I will look into it. Thanks for bringing attention to such a serious situation.

  2. Bravo! So many unknown disorders . Thank you for writing this. So many parents are hand cap when it comes to their child’s illiness. As parents we need to voice our concerns,to let others know it’s ok, you’re not alone. Hope to see more blogs about illiness among young adults and people will open up.

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