Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a condition that affects more than 1 in 100 people. Though it can appear in children as young as five, it often begins in teen years and continues into adulthood if it’s left untreated. Unfortunately, many people with BDD are too ashamed to speak about it, leaving them without ever receiving support. If you’re a parent with concerns about your own child showing signs of body dysmorphic disorder, here are some important facts about this widely misunderstood yet common condition:
- BDD is not a typical concern about weight. Seeking weight loss and supermodel looks is far from unusual in our culture and prevalent in individuals with eating disorders. However, individuals with BDD are convinced that one or more specific areas or aspects of their body are deformed or extremely flawed, despite looking normal to others. People with BDD often fixate on the areas around their head, such as their nose, hair, or the skin on their face, but any aspect of the body can become a focus. In one type of BDD called “muscle dysmorphia,” individuals believe that they look too small and continuously obsess about having a more muscular body.
- BDD is related to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Individuals with BDD spend hours each day obsessing about particular areas of their body and then engage in behaviors that are similar to compulsions in response to their concerns. Their compulsions typically involve either frequently looking at or avoiding looking at an area of the body, repeatedly seeking reassurance from others about how they look, and/or getting multiple cosmetic procedures to try to correct the imagined flaw. They may go to dermatologists and cosmetic surgeons often as they try to improve their appearance, however no procedure can address their psychological experience.
- BDD can affect anyone. Cases of BDD have been reported in children as young as 5 and adults as old as 80. Although it occurs slightly more often in women, it is almost as common in men as it is in women. BDD has also been found in people across different cultures and ethnicities.
- BDD can interrupt all aspects of a person’s life. Individuals with BDD may be so self-conscious about how they look that they completely avoid social interactions. This may mean that they remain home and do not go to work or school. Adults with BDD have a higher rate of unemployment than the general population. They often have limited contact with friends and family. When they are with others, they continue to be preoccupied with their perceived flaw.
- BDD takes a large emotional toll. Most people with BDD will also experience depression secondary to their body image concerns. Many also experience thoughts of suicide and are between 6 to 23 times more likely to attempt suicide than the average person. People will BDD also are more vulnerable to struggle with anxiety and substance use problems. The high-likelihood of additional psychological concerns with BDD further highlight the need for these individuals to receive treatment.
- BDD is treatable. People of all ages with BDD can benefit from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). However, as there are a number of complicating factors in BDD, such a suicidality, it is important to find a therapist with expertise in this condition. In addition, serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) such as Prozac, have been found to be effective in treating BDD. If your child is showing signs of BDD, you can ask your pediatrician about obtaining an evaluation by a mental health professional with expertise in this condition, who can help determine whether they require treatment.
From the Real Experts at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone:
Michelle Miller, PsyD, is a licensed psychologist and clinical assistant professor in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychology at NYU Langone Health. She practices at the Child Study Center, part of Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, in the NYC and New Jersey locations. Dr. Miller specializes in the treatment of body dysmorphic disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, tic disorders, and selective mutism.