We used to think of body image struggles as the embodiment of the classic definition for Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), which is a preoccupation with a real or perceived physical defect. More recently, we have seen an increase in weight or shape related BDD, where the preoccupation is on an individual’s body shape and what they weigh. This doesn’t mean that these concerns weren’t present before, but with the recent rise in people on their quest to "get fit", it is more in the spotlight than ever before. With more research and what we are seeing in the media, there has been growing evidence that depression and the importance one places on their appearance have a stronger link than we originally thought. When body image struggles and depression go hand in hand for an individual, there is a greater chance that they will experience more severe symptoms.
Researchers at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital, and Brown Medical School conducted a study with adolescent patients in their inpatient unit. They found that those patients with body image concerns were more severely ill than patients who did not report their body image as a concern. The patients who did report that body image was an issue showed higher levels of symptoms of depression, anxiety, and suicidality.
This presents a real concern because often times, many of those struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts don’t express that their poor body image could be an underlying reason for their depression, therefore, not getting the all of the help they need. Ultimately, the body image issues go undetected and never treated. This could be due to a clinician’s lack of questioning or assessment around the topic, and or the client’s embarassment or hesitance to bring their symptoms to light.
Body image concerns can be extremely impairing, distressing, and preoccupying. For the individual struggling with this, it can take up a great deal of mental energy, especially when it is coupled with depression. If you are struggling with this or notice someone you love is struggling with body image concerns or depression and you think poor body image might also be an underlying issue, or you aren't sure:
- Explore if distress has anything to do with their appearance
- Find ways or help them to express negative feelings regarding body image and let them know it’s okay to feel that way
- Help them to begin to recognize the importance of their non-weight and non-appearance based activities that contribute to their self-esteem and self-worth. If you are the one who is struggling, recognize the importance of non-weight and non-appearance based activities that contribute to your self-esteem and self-worth.
- Locate a professional that can help.
If you feel suicidal or someone you love/care about has confided in you that they are feeling this way don't hesitate to call local emergency numbers or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.