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All of us like to be dressed well, stay groomed and look presentable. And of course, we want our children too to stay attentive to their apparel and their overall appearance. Usually, once teenage starts, teenagers too become very conscious about their physical appearance and start paying close attention to their grooming and also like to stay updated within their friend circle. But if your teenager starts paying abnormal attention to his physical appearance or stays obsessed with a particular facet of his body, then he could have what is BDD or Body Dysmorphic disorder, a type of somatoform disorder on the psychotic disorder spectrum. The main feature of this disorder type is a preoccupation or obsession with a defect in the body that could be imagined. Such obsessions are usually associated with the nose, face, ears, hair etc. Sometimes it could be an obsession with a sexual part of the body.
What is normal is that most teens generally feel dissatisfied about their appearance- they become more conscious and extremely self-critical as they grow. But what is not normal is when this dissatisfaction starts causing the adolescent extreme stress, and their performance at school and in the social arena diminishes significantly. This is when there is cause for concern. BDD can disrupt day to day life of the child, causing him or her to retreat into a shell. BDD can even cause depression in acute cases, leading the teen to even think of suicide. Though such cases are very rare, they are not unheard of.
BDD falls in the area of psychotic disorders, and should be treated by a health professional who is experienced in mental health. A certain kind of therapy known as cognitive therapy is used, where the doctor talks to the child or teenager, and thoughts, feelings and behaviors revolving around the disorder are analyzed and resolved. Most of the time, BDD comes up with many faulty beliefs in the minds of the teenager, and these are suitably addressed. Sometimes medication may become necessary.
If your child displays BDD symptoms, like constantly remaining obsessed with his bodily appearance, then it is crucial that you and all your family members rally around the child with support and understanding. Remember, BDD is not anyone’s fault, and it can be treated well, if sufficient patience, time and due care is awarded to the situation. Do not punish your child or try to conceal his symptoms to avoid embarrassment. This could prove harmful in the long run.
Instead, immediately seek help from a professional. We as Indians usually do not like to confront such issues and would rather sweep them under the carpet to avoid social condemnation. It is time we stopped avoiding talking about disorders like these and accepted that such mental anomalies could affect any of our children. Rather, it would help us and society if we could display our openness and concern in tackling such maladies.