By Susan Cody
I was reading an article recently about a father who walked over 500 miles in memory of his son, Nathaniel Asselin. His son had committed suicide at the age of 24, due to a battle with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) that lasted more than half his young life.
His dad, Denis Asselin, is stopping by his son's favorite places as well as giving talks in the hospitals and other centers where his son sought help for his mental condition.
He wants to bring awareness to this little known medical condition that is linked to obsessive compulsive disorder. His journey is called Walking With Nathaniel.
EmpowHER via womenshealth.gov describes BDD as "... a serious illness in which a person is preoccupied with minor or imaginary physical flaws, usually of the skin, hair, and nose. A person with BDD tends to have cosmetic surgery, and even if the surgery is successful, does not think it was and is unhappy with the outcome."
"Being preoccupied with minor or imaginary physical flaws, usually of the skin, hair, and nose, such as acne, scarring, facial lines, marks, pale skin, thinning hair, excessive body hair, large nose, or crooked nose" are just some of the possible symptoms of BDD.
"Having a lot of anxiety and stress about the perceived flaw and spending a lot of time focusing on it, such as frequently picking at skin, excessively checking appearance in a mirror, hiding the imperfection, comparing appearance with others, excessively grooming, seeking reassurance from others about how they look, and getting cosmetic surgery."
Cosmetic surgery often becomes an obsession with those living with BDD and they are often very temporarily satisfied with the outcome , but soon after find other "flaws" or mistakes made and look into further surgeries.
It's imperative that plastic surgeons carefully evaluate the patients mental health as much as their physical health since sufferers of BDD are noted for their endless plastic surgeries and inability to view themselves as they really are.
A surgeon needs to be able to say no, and guide their patient to therapy rather than surgery. Surgery rarely satisfies a person with this disorder.
BDD often starts at a young age, sometimes in childhood and more often in the preteen and teen years. According to the story about Nathaniel, as recounted by ABC News, he became obsessed with the condition of his skin, spending hours trying to fix any flaw he perceived as existing and finding fault with many aspects of his appearance.
He stopped dating and socializing, afraid that people were staring at him and his "faults" and treatments -- even hospitalizations -- failed, ending with him taking his own life.
Also known as "broken mirror syndrome" because sufferers of this disorder are obsessed with looking at themselves in the mirror to find flaws, it can quickly become debilitating. There is no known cause for what triggers the disorder, therefore there is no way to prevent it, although early intervention is always key, like in any other illness.
Promoting high self esteem is also important with parents and caregivers who provide positive reinforcement and good body-image of themselves, as well as their children.
Like Nathaniel, other people with BDD can become shut-ins, or cover themselves when leaving home so that they cannot be seen.
The International OCD Foundation states that a person with BDD is 45 times more likely to commit suicide than others and BDD can affect as many as 1 in 100.
Intense therapy is often needed, or even hospitalization in severe cases as well as medication. Some insurances may cover the cost, otherwise treatment can be expensive although one on one therapy sessions can be a better financial option.
This disorder is very hard to cure because of its relentless effect on the brain. Rather than accepting themselves as they are, this disorder tells the person that they are imperfect to such an extent that they cannot be seen.
They may believe that people talk about them and laugh at them behind their backs and they can never be happy. It is an extremely serious and harmful disorder -- not something a person can "snap out of it" or grow out of.
Often, a person with BDD will not make steps to get help because they genuinely believe themselves to be severely flawed. It's crucial for friends and family to look for signs of this disorder to help the sufferer if they believe BDD might be an issue.
For the top 13 signs of BDD, click here: http://www.empowher.com/mental-health/content/top-13-signs-body-dysmorphic-disorder/ and encourage loved ones to seek help.
Do you, or someone you know, have experience with this disorder?
ABCNews.com. Health. "Body Dysmorphia Takes Son's Life; Propels Grieving Dad to Walk." Web. Retrieved Monday, June 11, 2012.
EmpowHER. Wellness. "Body Dysmorphic Disorder Distorts Healthy Body Image." Web. Retrieved Monday, June 11, 2012.
Reviewed June 11, 2012
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
By Susan Cody