People with body dysmorphic disorder become obsessed with perceived physical flaws, even if these supposed flaws are not noticeable to others. This obsession can lead to considerable stress and cause psychological and social dysfunction, resulting in poor quality of life and high suicide rates.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as BDD or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition that changes a person’s perception of their physical appearance. People with this disorder worry considerably about specific physical flaws, believing that they are far more visible and significant than they are. This condition is similar to an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because the person with BDD has recurrent distressing thoughts about their appearance that they cannot control.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Statistics and Facts
Body dysmorphic disorder statistics estimate that about 2.4 percent of the people living in the United States suffer from body dysmorphia. This percentage is higher in teenagers (around 4.8 percent). This disorder affects both men and women equally, although some studies suggest that BDD is more common in women. The actual prevalence of BDD may be significantly higher because many people with BDD feel ashamed about their body image concerns.
Body dysmorphia can become a significant social handicap, affecting a person’s emotional and professional relations. For example, research shows that people with BDD are less likely to be married and more likely to be unemployed. The condition can also lead to suicide: 80 percent of individuals with body dysmorphia report having thought about suicide, and about 25 percent have attempted suicide at least once.
Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
There are several signs of body dysmorphic disorder, including:
- Spending too much time comparing one’s looks with other people’s
- Looking frequently at mirrors or avoiding mirrors
- Worrying constantly about a particular area of one’s body
- Going to great lengths to hide a physical flaw
- Having frequent thoughts of self-harm or suicide
Body Dysmorphic Risk Factors
While the causes of this disorder are not clear, several risk factors of body dysmorphic disorder have been identified, including:
- Genetic predisposition, or having a relative with body dysmorphia, depression or OCD
- A chemical imbalance in the brain, particularly of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which is important for feelings of well-being and happiness
- Traumatic life experiences, such as sexual trauma, child abuse or peer-abuse
Getting Help for Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Body dysmorphia can cause profound psychological and social distress. But it can be treated. Several effective treatments are available to treat BDD and help anyone suffering from this disorder to live a happy and fulfilled life, including:
- Cognitive-behavioral therapy, also known as CBT, can help people with BDD to recognize and identify their negative thinking patterns, replacing them with positive ones
- Medications, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, to address serotonin imbalance