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Body Dysmorphic Disorder in children

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Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a condition where someone worries to an unhealthy level about the way they look.  It is recognised as a mental illness, and affects 1 in every 100 people in the UK, many of them children.  Even when sufferers are told that their appearance is perfectly normal, they find this reassurance difficult to accept and rationalise.  At its most extreme, Body Dysmorphic Disorder can lead to people hiding themselves away, and a few feel so distraught about the way they look that they resort to suicide.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder in children is particularly worrying and often emerges during the teenage years.  Young people in general can struggle with their body image as they grow into adolescence.  Changing body shape, acne, hair growth and the mayhem caused by the hormonal upheaval of puberty can cause many young people to start obsessing about the way they look.  Body Dysmorphic Disorder  begins when this obsession gets out of control, with the mind creating distorted perceptions of real or imagined body imperfections.

Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

There is no single cause of the disorder, although it is known that it runs in families, and there is understood to be a genetic component that is, as yet, unidentified.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder often presents alongside other issues.  It can be associated with eating disorders, for example, or may derive from a phobia of some kind, such as social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia, where sufferers have an intense fear of social situations.  Statistics also show that Body Dysmorphic Disorder often occurs with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, as it provides an outlet for the obsession.  Sufferers of bad acne can develop Body Dysmorphic Disorder as a result of their skin condition.

Other casual factors for Body Dysmorphic Disorder may be psychological.  A young person who already has low self-esteem can be particularly vulnerable to bullying or teasing in relation to their appearance.dysmorphic disorder  It is interesting to note that around 60% of sufferers make mention of regular or intense teasing that they were subjected to in childhood.  It is also thought that parents can inadvertently create body confidence issues if they place undue importance on appearance or, at the other extreme, disregard it altogether.

Alternative triggers for the disorder may include physical or sexual abuse, neglect, or rejection in childhood that initiates feelings that “there must be something wrong with me”.  It can also be argued that the media have a role to play in generating body insecurities in young people.  Fashion and beauty publicity promote unattainable body images to sell their products, which can lead to deep feelings of inadequacy in some young people.

Symptom of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Identifying the condition in your child can be difficult.  The nature of the disorder can create acute levels of embarrassment and self-consciousness in sufferers, making it unlikely they will share their concerns.  The condition affects both boys and girls in equal proportions.  Look out for the following behaviours, which can indicate an unhealthy level of interest by your child in their appearance:

  • Regular scrutiny of a particular part of the body in a mirror – of common focus for obsession are the skin, hair, nose and weight
  • Social withdrawal – avoidance of situations where there are lots of people
  • Reluctance to go to school
  • Schoolwork suffering – this can happen as a result of the physical obsession distracting from other activities
  • Increased need for reassurance from family and friends
  • Alcohol or drug abuse – this can be a way of hiding from the problem, or an attempt to self-medicate
  • Evidence of self-harming
  • Excessive use of make-up
  • A marked change in the fashions worn, to long, baggy clothes that hide the body, and often in dark colours
  • Compulsive behaviour of any form

How to Get Help

Getting treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder first requires a diagnosis, and this is generally done through psychiatric evaluation.  Thereafter, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is known to be effective as a treatment, supported by a course of anti-depressants.  Specialist care is hard to find, but as the condition becomes more widely recognised the number of qualified and experienced practitioners will increase, improving the chances of proper treatment being available.

If you suspect your child may be suffering from the condition, talk first to your GP and explain your concerns.  You may need to be persistent in getting a full diagnosis, so don’t give up at the first hurdle if you feel your GP is not treating your concerns seriously.




About Cally Worden

About Cally Worden

Seasoned freelance writer Cally Worden lives with her family and dog in a quiet corner of rural France. A love of the outdoors, and a fascination with her children's ability to view life with fresh eyes provide the inspiration for much of her work. Cally writes regularly for various websites and UK print publications on subjects as diverse as parenting, travel, lifestyle, and business, and anything that makes her smile.

Website: Cally Worden

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