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General overview

Teenagers tend to worry more than most age groups about their appearances. This may be due to the influence of their peers as well as social, paper and digital media as to what is socially acceptable and what isn't regarding looks and fashion.

This has caused misery in many teenagers and in some cases has resulted in the development if anxiety disorders.

Body dysmorphic disorder

There may be scenarios though which can be problematic and may result in non-stop thinking over one's supposed flaws. This perceived flaw may lead to severe anxiety and can cause a disruption in one's quality of life.

These are the characteristics of a mental health condition called body dysmorphic condition and can result in the involved person becoming socially withdrawn, amongst other possible complications  .

Symptoms of this condition can include the following issues:

  • Having the belief that there's a defect present which makes one appear deformed or ugly.
  • Being very preoccupied with a flaw which others can't perceive or which appears to be minor in nature.
  • Believing that the perceived flaw is taken note of in a negative way by others and may result in bullying or mocking.
  • Behaviours, such as frequent grooming, checking the mirror and/or picking of the skin, occur which may become difficult to control or resist.
  • Looking for reassurance from others about one's appearance.
  • Hiding perceived flaws with make-up, styling and clothes.
  • The development of perfectionist tendencies.
  • Avoidance of social situations.
  • The preoccupation with appearance has resulted in a decrease in quality of life, and has affected one's grades and social interaction with others negatively.

Unfortunately, this condition can lead to complications such as:

  • Anxiety disorders.
  • Mood disorders such as depression.
  • Health related issues such as secondary bacterial infections due to picking of the skin.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Substance abuse.
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviours.

The treatment of this condition can be initiated by a family doctor and the patient can then be referred to a psychiatrist and psychologist for further management. The treatment entails the use of oral medication and psychotherapy which will be discussed as follows:

  • Medication - Oral antidepressants such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI's) are initially used to help improve serotonin levels in the brain. These serotonin levels are thought to be decreased in patients with body dysmorphic disorder. The SSRI's also help to reduce anxiety as well as the obsessive and compulsive behaviours by these patients.
  • Psychotherapy -  A psychologist will be involved to help initiate cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT). This therapy will aim at helping to understand how negative thoughts and behaviours lead to negative outcomes, how to challenge negative thoughts and replace them with more realistic ways of thinking, learning alternate ways to handle negative urges and being taught other behaviours to help improve mental health.

The following suggestion regarding what one can do at home will also be beneficial for patients with this condition. They are as follows:

  • Follow the treatment plan, make sure that the medication is taken as prescribed and try avoid skipping therapy sessions.
  • Reading up about body dysthymic disorder can motivate a patient to maintain their treatment plan.
  • Practice the coping skills taught in CBT.
  • Incorporate relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation, prayer, yoga or massage therapy.
  • Start becoming physically active as this can help reduce anxiety levels.
  • Avoid alcohol and illicit drug intake.

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