I wouldn’t be around to mark this Mental Health Awareness Week, if it wasn’t for the Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (CADAT), part of South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust. I truly believe that.
Like many with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), it took me a long time to get a diagnosis and access appropriate treatment. Whilst the research suggests that up to 2.4% of the general population probably have BDD, which would make it as common as mental health conditions like schizophrenia or anorexia, it goes widely unrecognised, even by health professionals.
I probably showed the first signs of BDD as a teenager, but it wasn’t until my early twenties when it became all too obvious that there was something not right with my mental health. I struggled to keep up with a demanding graduate job, whilst spending an increasing number of hours in front of a mirror, anxious that other people would judge me for my appearance. I got up hours earlier than I should have to apply, then remove and reapply make up. I grabbed every opportunity to check my make up in any mirror available. Heaven forbid I noticed something wasn’t ‘right’.
Over the next four years, my BDD symptoms got gradually worse. I spent time in and out of work, moving back home with my mum for extended periods whilst I tried to discover what was going on and how I could access support. I was passed between various services, coming into contact with numerous health professionals. Not one identified I had BDD.
By July 2019, I was broken. I had fought my way through the mental health system and had no more to give. I had lost all hope that I would live a normal life. Any life.
It’s perhaps not surprising that research studies have shown up to 30% of those with BDD have attempted suicide, with a much higher proportion experiencing suicidal ideation. Luckily for me, I became aware of CADAT at the very moment I needed them most.
At my assessment I was told in no uncertain terms that I had severe BDD. I had a treatable mental health condition, and I wasn’t alone. I didn’t have to fight anymore, and I was going to be helped to get better by specialists. All thanks to a funding route which meant CADAT could accept patients from across England.
Treating BDD isn’t something that is done overnight. I’ve had ups and downs, not least with a pandemic to contend with. As I come to the end of my second course of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) at CADAT, I know I’m making steady progress. What’s more, I can look to the future. I can hope once again.
The Centre for Anxiety Disorders and Trauma (CADAT) is an outpatient psychological therapy service. CADAT provides assessment and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT) locally and nationally for specific anxiety disorders and depersonalisation disorder. We offer both online and face to face treatment. For more information - https://slam.nhs.uk/search/service/centre-for-anxiety-disorders-and-trauma-112