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Is There a Link Between Mental Health and Body Dysmorphia Among Social Media Users?

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Most of us have something we don't like about our appearance — a crooked nose, an uneven smile, or eyes that are too large or too small

And though we may fret about our imperfections, they don’t interfere with our daily lives. But people who have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day. They can't control their negative thoughts and don't believe people who tell them that they look fine. Their thoughts may cause severe emotional distress and interfere with their daily functioning. They may miss work or school, avoid social situations and isolate themselves, even from family and friends, because they fear others will notice their flaws.

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Most of us have something that we don’t like about our appearance—a crooked smile, large eyes, a flabby stomach, the list goes on

Most people accept these flaws and move on with their daily lives, but people who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) become fixated on that imperfection and think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day. These obsessive and controlling thoughts can cause you to spend excessive amounts of time trying to cover or conceal the flaw. BDD sufferers can't control their negative thoughts and don't believe people who tell them that they look fine. Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as dysmorphophobia, is a common affliction, affecting approximately 1.7% to 2.4% of the population, with roughly equal distribution among men and women. "It can happen to pretty people, it can happen to people who are average-looking," Dr. Feusner says, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA who has conducted studies on the condition. While the disorder is serious enough that it can lead to institutionalization or suicide, practitioners worry that with so little known about it, even professional therapists may fail to diagnose it. With the rise of convergence, social media has become a critical part of our everyday lives. Numerous sources say that these platforms are to blame for instilling insecurities in young people. Most people ages 15 - 27 are actively engaged in at least one or more forms of social media. In the age of Instagram models, Twitter-famous celebrities, and Tumblr babes, it is no wonder our generation has become so obsessed with the concept of perfection. When scrolling through our feeds, we are exposed to a highly-curated selection of photos, images, and snaps that are far from our reality. Matthew Schulman, a plastic surgeon in New York, says “patients have been coming in with Snapchat filtered selfies to show what they want done to their body.” Constant exposure to altered images can lead to an unhealthy pressure to achieve unrealistic body types, which can result in body dysmorphic behaviors. Social media has become increasingly dangerous, especially for teens, who are most susceptible to suffering from insecurity and depression. At this age, girls and boys are still learning about their own anatomy while dealing with hormones, pressures from school, and other home life distractions. These factors, combined with constant pressure from the media telling young people that they should be thin, curvy, sexy, brainy, cultured or woke, can be very overwhelming on the psyche.

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Preoccupation with a body part can lead to indulgence in various forms of coping behavior. Users are frequently using technology as well as selfie to overcome their anxiety to relate to a body part as well as get approval from other online users

The present case highlights the excessive use of selfie to manage the distress-related body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Psychiatric interview and assessment tools were used to elicit information about BDD, technology use, and affective states. Repeated use of selfie has been thought to manage the distress associated with appearance. It implies the need for screening excessive use of technology as comorbid condition and psychoeducation for promotion of healthy use of technology. Adolescents with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) have an excessive preoccupation with one or more imagined or minor flaws in their physical appearance, which causes significant distress and impairs their social and occupational functioning (Rief W, Buhlmann U, 2006). They engage in repetitive behaviors such as mirror checking, excessive grooming, reassurance seeking, skin picking, or cloth changing to lessen their anxiety. Though the preoccupation can involve any body part, the most common ones are the skin, hair, nose, eyes, eyelids, mouth, lips, jaw, and chin, and the preoccupation can be focused on several body parts at the same time. The steep growth of smartphones coupled with various other social factors has led to an increase in the selfie phenomenon in India. The selfie phenomenon has grown to almost every brand in every sector hosting a selfie contest. For one, it is cost-effective and another it is easy to instantly share on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram and identified with the help of hashtags. Brands have been positively leveraging the power of selfies. Selfie variants are also adding to the brand communication (Gunstad J, Phillips KA. 2003).

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To sum up, Instagram may be on the right track to curing a social illness, but for people who suffer from BDD, no amount of outside influence will change the way they view themselves when they look in the mirror. Filters are trends and will fade in and out as times change. For a person with BDD, the filter is in their brain

No social media policy change will alleviate the symptoms of BDD. Only an internal change can save their lives. For those who feel they may be experiencing symptoms of BDD, it is best to look for experts in your area who specialize in CBT.

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Rief W, Buhlmann U, Wilhelm S, Borkenhagen A, Brähler E. The prevalence of body dysmorphic disorder: A population-based survey. Psychol Med. 2006;36:877–85.

Phillips KA, Menard W, Fay C. Gender similarities and differences in 200 individuals with body dysmorphic disorder. Compr Psychiatry. 2006;47:77–87.

Gunstad J, Phillips KA. Axis I comorbidity in body dysmorphic disorder. Compr Psychiatry. 2003;44:270–6.

Phillips KA. Suicidality in body dysmorphic disorder. Prim psychiatry. 2007;14:58–66.

Madden M, Lenhart A, Duggan M, Cortesi S, Gasser E. Teens and Technology 2013: Pew Internet and American Life Project. Washington, USA: 2013

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