Friday, 7 September 2012

A distorted body image

Body dsymorphic disorder (BDD) affects one in 50 people and usually starts in the early twenties or teenage years. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are excessively preoccupied with how they look and greatly exaggerate or even imagine flaws in their appearance. BDD sufferers can obsess about any area but tend to focus more intently on the skin, eyes, nose, teeth, buttocks, stomach, hair or chest.

BDD is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder because the obsessions about appearance can become so consuming that they can greatly affect a sufferer's everyday life (preventing them from going to work and socialising) and as a result can lead to other problems, such as depression, anxiety and eating disorders.

Over 25% of people with BDD have a history of attempting suicide. Research from Rhode Island Hospital and Auburn University has suggested it is eating less or restricting food intake in BDD that correlates with more than double the number of suicide attempts whereas excessive exercise, another BDD-related behaviour, resulted in half the number of suicide attempts as those without a history of BDD. Other behaviours associated with BDD such as cosmetic surgery, compulsive skin picking and physical self-mutilation did not show a consistent correlation with suicide behaviour.

The rationale for these findings, published in the journal Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, is that individuals who are able to endure physical discomfort, such as the pain of restricting food intake, are more capable of withstanding the physical pain of inflicting self-harm and are more likely to attempt suicide. Therefore when assessing individuals with BDD who restrict their food intake, it is also important to identify suicide risk.

If you, or someone you know would like to book an initial session to talk to one of experienced practitioners about BDD, please contact your local First Psychology centre.

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