BDD involves a focus on one or more perceived defects or flaws in physical appearance that are not observable or appear minimal to others. It consists of a preoccupation that causes significant distress that disrupts social and occupational functioning.
Individuals affected by BDD may:
- Engage in compulsive, time consuming and repetitive behaviours – reassurance seeking, mirror checking, excessive grooming and skin picking which can lead to lesions
- Compare themselves to others in response to appearance concerns
- Their appearance related preoccupation is not primarily explained by concerns about weight as can occur in an eating disorder
It’s important to understand that for the person, their beliefs about their flaw(s) feel real. In some instances, they may approach a dentist, dermatologist or surgeon to undergo a procedure to rectify the issue. Behaviours associated with BDD are often secretive, underlined by shame and those such as mirror checking do not bring short-term relief, but increase self-consciousness, heighten perceptions of defects and in turn, increase distress.
Self-image amongst those with BDD may relate to early stressful experiences in childhood. BDD is often hidden as people tend not to seek professional help, and those that do, may be reluctant to discuss their difficulties. Some may report misdiagnosis before finding appropriate treatment. BDD often co-exists with other disorders, with depression being the most common. Others include social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and generalised anxiety disorder.
People with BDD may report significant distress, productivity problems at work or school and in some instances, withdrawal from school or job losses. The person may believe that others are disgusted at a particular aspect of their appearance. Individuals who experience BDD may express a desire to ‘become invisible’. They may prefer colder weather in order to wrap up i.e. camouflage their perceived flaw and also prefer to leave the house after dark. They may hear positive feedback from others and feel it is intended as pity or sarcasm. They may miss out on social cues and information that may moderate their negative self-image. BDD can lead to social avoidance and self-imposed isolation from family, friends and partners due to worry about being viewed negatively by others. This isolation can contribute to additional distress.
BDD increases risk of suicide.
Treatment can vary from medication to psychological such as cognitive behavioural psychotherapy (CBT), or a combination of medication and therapy.