3 Symptoms of Body Dysmorphia Among Young Adults
Body image struggles occur for people of all ages and genders. In today’s social media and technology-focused environment, it is easy to look at others online and on television and aspire to look like someone else. This desire is often fueled by a perceived defect in one’s own physical appearance. This describes the symptoms of a relatively common mental health condition called body dysmorphic disorder or BDD.
Someone who struggles with body dysmorphic disorder often worries about certain parts of their body. While their concerns can focus on any part, the hair and face are some of the most common areas of concern. For example, they may be bothered by a feature such as a crooked nose or uneven lips. Someone with body dysmorphic disorder may perceive natural features such as facial hair or acne as more significant or visible than it actually is. While many people with body dysmorphic disorder focus on a specific feature, some worry that their entire appearance is unacceptable and must change.
Understanding More About Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Most people worry about or find fault with a particular area of their body at some point in their lifetime. In most cases, these worries or concerns typically fade in time. For someone with body dysmorphic disorder, the anxiety or frustration persists. They will often spend excessive time focused on or worried about a particular physical trait that is generally barely or not at all visible to others. In time, worry or frustration evolves into an uncontrollable obsession. It is important to note that body dysmorphic disorder has little to do with one’s actual physical appearance, rather their self-image or how they view particular physical features.
Statistics about body dysmorphic disorder suggest the diagnosis affects between 0.5 and 4% of the American population. It is most common among teens and adults between ages 15 and 30. Like many mental health conditions related to body image, body dysmorphic disorder is more likely to affect women than men, although men are not immune. Also, data from a study conducted in 2010 indicates that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more likely to report body dysmorphic disorder symptoms than their heterosexual peers.
Diagnosing Body Dysmorphic Disorder
There are several specific criteria listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders that clarify the diagnostic criteria for body dysmorphic disorder. The fifth edition of the manual indicates four specific criteria that someone must meet or symptoms they must exhibit to be diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder. These include being preoccupied with one or more imperfections in appearance that others cannot see, carrying out repetitive behaviors (related to their appearance), and a concern that does not relate to weight or body fat in those with an eating disorder diagnosis. Repetitive checking behaviors may include comparing themselves to others, checking the mirror, or similar.
The fourth criterion is that the perceived shortcoming or flaw must cause significant distress that leaves the individual with body dysmorphic disorder unable to function in work settings, social environments, or other areas of life. The fourth criteria frequently leads to other mental health challenges, including anxiety and depression.
What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Research has not suggested or uncovered a specific cause of body dysmorphic disorder. However, several studies indicate that a combination of factors may increase one’s risk of developing it.
The first possible root cause is that body dysmorphic disorder might be genetic. A small study conducted in 2010 noted that approximately 8% of people who are diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder have a close family member or first-degree relative who has body dysmorphic disorder or was diagnosed with body dysmorphic disorder at some time.
Another possible contributing factor is an obsessive-compulsive disorder. A substantial number of people who have been diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder also experience symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder. Some studies suggest that as many as 38% of people diagnosed with an obsessive-compulsive disorder also have body dysmorphic disorder. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder share several similar genetic factors; however, more research is necessary. Additional studies suggest body dysmorphic disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder respond to similar therapeutic models.
Scientists have uncovered a connection between body dysmorphic disorder and low serotonin levels. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in the brain that is responsible for many functions, including mood regulation, emotions, digestion, and appetite regulation. Although the connection between serotonin and body dysmorphic disorder remains unclear, low serotonin levels are often seen in people with body dysmorphic disorder. Also, when used as a form of treatment, serotonin appears to provide a degree of symptom relief.
Another possible cause is one’s childhood experiences. Studies show that those who experienced body shaming or teasing in their youth are more susceptible to body dysmorphic disorder. Experiencing a heightened awareness of ideas behind beauty and body image may also influence body dysmorphic disorder development. Unfortunately, the influence of social media on youth and adults only worsens the impact of this potential factor.
What are the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
The primary symptom of body dysmorphic disorder is an uncontrollable preoccupation with the idea of a specific flaw in one’s appearance. Often, this perception of a flaw is so severe that it can drastically limit one’s ability to function in most day-to-day settings. The symptoms one experiences with body dysmorphic disorder are not always consistent. They may come and go and fluctuate between mild and severe. It is also possible for attention to shift from one body part to another from time to time.
The most common focus areas for someone with body dysmorphic disorder include the skin (wrinkles, dark spots, acne, oily skin, etc.) and the face (facial hair, a crooked smile, oddly spaced eyes, etc.). Typically, one or two areas of the body are concerning. In addition to facial features like the mouth, nose, and teeth, other areas of concern include the breasts, genitals, and worries about hair loss or thinning.
The preoccupation with body flaws can lead to several mental and physical health symptoms, including extreme self-consciousness, neglecting personal or work-related obligations, frequently “checking” the feature in mirrors, avoiding mirrors altogether, frequent visits to cosmetic surgeons or dermatologists (to correct the flaw), actively concealing the flaw, seeking agreement from others about the flaw (and becoming frustrated when they do not see it) and spending several hours each day thinking about the flaw.
If a friend or loved one struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, it is essential to remember that there is little you can say or do that will reduce the significance of the perceived flaw. Stating that it is not there or not significant may further frustrate your friend or loved one. They will also likely not believe you, even if your assertion is true. The nature of body dysmorphic disorder symptoms makes one think people are mocking them, staring at them, or talking about their “flaw” even though they are not.
Seeking Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Body dysmorphic disorder can have a severe, detrimental impact on one’s life. The difficulties that arise from body dysmorphic disorder may lead them to avoid social situations, work obligations, or other circumstances requiring social interaction. This can lead to strained relationships and considerable difficulties at work. Unfortunately, many people who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder never seek or receive the help they need to manage and recover from their symptoms. This is because most will seek help from the doctor they believe can “fix” their flaw instead of a mental health provider at a treatment program like The Meadowglade.
The most common treatments for body dysmorphic disorder include cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication. Cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT is a type of psychotherapy that encourages participants to alter their behaviors and perceptions. This is accomplished by encouraging them to challenge the thoughts and beliefs that lead to harmful thoughts and actions. Doing so makes it possible to develop a clearer understanding of why they think or feel as they do.
Successful cognitive-behavioral therapy treatments can help someone struggling with body dysmorphic disorder reduce the negative thoughts that further their symptoms. Instead, they learn to evaluate themselves through a positive, more realistic lens. As part of treatment, they will develop new and healthier coping skills that can be used to handle triggers or urges to engage in potentially harmful behaviors such as mirror checking.
Because science suggests a link between serotonin and body dysmorphic disorder, a key medication used in body dysmorphic disorder is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. These medications slow the speed at which the nerves utilize serotonin. This means there is more serotonin in the brain at any given time. Several studies indicate SSRIs can help reduce symptoms in as many as half of those who use them as part of a comprehensive treatment program.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a severe mental health condition that can cause lasting physical and emotional health impacts in the absence of support and treatment. It is essential to seek help from a skilled treatment program like The Meadowglade to learn more about the underlying factors contributing to body dysmorphic disorder symptoms. Treatment and a better understanding of the root concerns that cause body dysmorphic disorder is the safest and most effective way to help someone struggling with this condition see themselves as others do.
Getting help to manage and overcome body dysmorphic disorder is crucial in preventing unnecessary surgical interventions. Many who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder will turn to surgical and cosmetic procedures to achieve their ideal appearance and remove their “flaws.” Unfortunately, many of these procedures carry a certain amount of risk and can cause more harm than good.
If you or a loved one struggles with body dysmorphic disorder, seeking help from a mental health specialist who understands your symptoms is a crucial first step on a journey to recovery. Let our caring and skilled team at The Meadowglade support you as you begin your journey towards lasting health and wellness. Contact us today to learn more about our programs and how we can help.