I CAN'T FACE MYSELF; Torment of a Young Man Who Won't Even Look at Himself in Mirror Family Fear Long Wait for NHS Treatment of His Chronic Psychiatric Disorder May Have Tragic Consequences

Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland), August 2, 2006 | Go to article overview

I CAN'T FACE MYSELF; Torment of a Young Man Who Won't Even Look at Himself in Mirror Family Fear Long Wait for NHS Treatment of His Chronic Psychiatric Disorder May Have Tragic Consequences


Byline: By Lindsay Clydesdale

A DAM WALKER lives in a house without mirrors. Anything that could reflect his image is I covered or removed.

You might think Adam has a terrible skin condition or deformity which makes it painful to look at his face.

In some ways, what he suffers from is worse. He has body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and hates his appearance so much, he is suicidal.

The fact that he's tall, dark and good looking, with a shy smile and friendly nature, doesn't make any difference.

He looks in the mirror and sees something else.

Adam is not his real name and he could not bear to be photographed for this article or be identified. Outside of his immediate family and girlfriend, no one even knows he's unwell.

But it's taken a toll on his life and he no longer works or sees his friends. His family care for him full-time and know it can be dangerous to leave him alone.

"We are devastated that this illness has left him in such despair," said Adam's sister. "I love my brother so much I could not bear to lose him."

Adam, 24, hates his nose. Although he's always been slightly unhappy with his appearance, this developed into full-blown BDD within the last year.

"The last few years he's deteriorated but in the last nine months it's got really bad," said his mother. "It couldn't get any worse."

Adam is at the end of a long waiting list to see a psychologist - a wait that his family fear he may not survive.

"With the severity of his condition, waiting is a risky business," said his sister. "He really needs intervention from a cognitive behavioural psychologist soon."

BDD is a psychiatric disorder where people worry about their appearance to the extent that it interferes with their lives. Sufferers often realise that others think they look normal and are told as much, but dismiss it as insincere.

Many keep their problem a secret so the exact number of sufferers is unknown. The best estimate is that it affects one per cent of the population - about 600,000 people in the UK.

Adam keeps his condition secret from most people he knows.

"People have noticed a difference in me but because they don't know about the BDD, they think it's mood swings," he said. "But it's personal. I don't want to have to tell anyone. I think blokes would just laugh if they knew."

Despite his desperate situation, Adam has seen acounsellor just twice since being diagnosed last November. Although the recommended treatment is antidepressants and cognitive behavioural therapy, so far only the drugs have been offered to Adam. He now takes 17 tablets a day - eight pills in the morning, four in the afternoon and another five before bed. Meanwhile his BDD gets worse.

"Some pills are to make him sleep, some are to sedate him and others are for depression," said his mum.

High-profile sufferers of BDD include Hollywood star Uma Thurman, singer Shirley Manson and Love Island's Alicia Douvall, while Natalie Imbruglia has said she could have the condition.

In an interview in April, David Beckham said he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, a condition closely linked to BDD. Adam has been diagnosed with both.

He's tried hypnosis but the results only lasted short-term.

"The last couple of months have been horrific," said Adam. "I was so desperate, I would try anything.

"I understand I need help but no one will give it to me. If I had cancer, at least I would get treatment and there would be some hope.

"It's in my head 24 hours a day. As soon as I wake up, it's my first thought. I can't concentrate on anything else."

Even CDs have been removed from the house as he used them to examine his face, sometimes for hours at a time.

He can't be trusted with even a small hand mirror and either his mother or girlfriend has to shave him. …

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