Is body dysmorphia a mental illness?

Is body dysmorphic a mental illness?

Body dysmorphia is a severe inability that leaves individuals unable to stop thinking or focusing on one or more defects or flaws that they see within their bodies. More often than not, the flaw that the individual see will appear minor or not even be noticed by anyone else. Still, to the individual who suffers from body dysmorphia, the flaw is all they can focus on. Individuals may feel highly anxious, embarrassed, and ashamed that they will go as far as avoiding social interaction.

When individuals have been diagnosed with body dysmorphia, they will intensely focus on their appearance and overall body image, repeatedly groom themselves or check the mirror, or constantly seek reassurance from friends and loved ones. Individuals who struggle with the disorder will deal with a significant amount of stress, negatively impacting their daily lives and social interactions.

With individuals who struggle with severe body dysmorphia, many will seek out several cosmetic procedures to try and fix the flaw; however, the positive feeling they have once the process is completed is temporary. Within a few weeks, their anxiety will return, and they will resume searching and focusing on ways to fix their perceived flaw. This is due to the mental health disorder not being treated at the root core but on the surface level. Effective treatment for body dysmorphia can include cognitive behavioral therapy with a combination of medication depending on the severity of the symptoms.

Common areas of concern

Body dysmorphia is a long-term mental health disorder that affects men and women equally, with symptoms usually developing in the teenage years. The most common areas of concern for individual who suffer from body dysmorphia can include but is not limited to:

Skin imperfections: This can include fine lines, wrinkles, acne, scars, uneven skin tone, and blemishes

Hair: This can include either the hair on your head and body hair, or the absence of body hair

Bodyweight: Individuals constant obsess about their weight, whether they believe they are too big or too small, as well as the amount of muscle tone they have

Facial features: More often than not, this involves an individual nose, but it can also involve the shape and size of additional features on the face

Additional areas of concern can further include the size of an individual’s penis, breasts, thighs, muscles, buttocks, and the presence of specific body odors when performing activities.

The signs and symptoms of body dysmorphia

There are a variety of warning signs that an individual may be exhibiting if they are struggling with body dysmorphic disorder; these can include but are not limited to:

  • Constantly asking for reassurance from loved ones and family members that the defect is not visible or too obvious to everyone
  • Engaging in repetitive and often time-consuming behaviors such
  • Always picking at the skin
  • Looking in the mirror
  • Trying to hide or cover up the perceived defeat
  • Repeatedly measuring a body part such as the waist or touching the perceived defect
  • Experiencing problems at education facilities or in romantic relationships due to the inability to stop entirely focusing on the perceived problem
  • Repeatedly consulting with medical professionals such as dermatologists or plastic surgeons to find ways to improve or enhance their overall appearance

Is there a known cause of body dysmorphia

Unfortunately, there is no known exact cause of body dysmorphia; however, there are theories within the medical industry. One therapy suggests that the mental health disorder stems from the functioning or size of specific areas within the brain, particularly the area that processes information about the body and its appearance.

Individuals diagnosed with body dysmorphia often have co-occurring mental health disorders such as anxiety and major depression.

Further factors that may influence the development of body dysmorphia can include but is not limited to:

Low self-esteem
Parents or additional family members who we overly critical of the personal appearance from a young age
A traumatic event or emotional conflict that occurred during an individual’s childhood

Society and peers place an equal amount of pressure on young individuals to keep up with the ‘in trend’ physical and beauty appearances, which often give you value in social media.

Body dysmorphia is not the same as being self-obsessed

Individuals who suffer from body dysmorphia will heavily focus on their appearance; this often leads family members and friends to believe that the individual has become self-obsessed; however, this is simply not the case. Individuals diagnosed with BDD suffer from a severe mental health disorder that severely influences their views. BDD will often cause individuals to constantly feel ashes in their appearance no matter how much they try to cover up their perceived flaws.

How to prevent body dysmorphia

Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent body dysmorphia; however, due to the mental health disorder usually showing subtle signs within an individual early teenage year, identifying the condition early and starting treatment can have significant benefits. Long-term maintenance treatment can often be beneficial to help an individual from relapsing.

Risk factors of body dysmorphia

Body dysmorphia will vary in severity depending on a range of factors, but with most people, BDD can severely disrupt individuals’ daily lives. Body dysmorphia can cause a range of additional challenges such as:

  • Eating disorder
  • Intense feelings of loneliness, guilt, and shame
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Self-harm
  • Suicidal though
  • Intense feelings of needed unnecessary medical procedures such as plastic surgery
  • Bulimia

Many individuals who suffer from body dysmorphia will often suffer in silence for years. They will not reach out for help as they are too worried that their loved ones or medical professionals will judge them or accuse them of being vain. Therefore many individuals will likely live the majority of their lives with a severe mental health disorder with the possibility of developing other mental health disorders or challenges along the way.

If you have suicidal thoughts

Suicidal behaviors and thought patterns are extremely common for body dysmorphia. If you believe your symptoms or a loved one’s symptoms have become severe and you think they may hurt themselves or attempt suicide, please get them help right away:

  • Call 911 immediately or your local emergency number.
  • Call a suicide hotline number. In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) or use its webchat at
  • Call your mental health professional as soon as possible
  • Reach out to a close, trusted friend or loved one
  • Seek health from your primary care provider
  • Contact a spiritual leader, minister, or someone within your faith community.

Please do not ever feel you can not reach out for help. Thousands if not millions of individuals are either in your current situation or have taken the leap to get help and are now thriving in life. There are a variety of treatments available at Shoreline Recovery Center.

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