A DEVOTED mother picked up her daughter's diary expecting to find work reminders and a do-to-list for the next day. Instead, she found suicide notes.
They were written by Olivia Milligan, 22, a student at Newcastle College who has been diagnosed with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).
This is a condition where a person spends an excessive amount of time thinking about a minor or imagined defect in their physical appearance and are distressed about it.
"I can't pinpoint when the condition started because I didn't know I was actually ill," explained Olivia, of South Gosforth, Newcastle.
"I thought it was just depression, I had no idea it was BDD. I put my body through major torture.
"Before wearing braces I had very bad teeth, so I used to try filing them with a nail file. I would attempt to break my nose as well.
"BDD does take over your life. It wasn't just my teeth and my nose, it was my chin, ears and my eyes.
"I thought I looked like the Hunchback of Notre Dame. I never left the house - I pretended I had headaches so I didn't go to school for a month and I was constantly arguing with my mum."
Nearly 618,000 people in the UK are diagnosed as having BDD. Of that number, a quarter attempt suicide - a rate double that of other depressive conditions.
BDD is often misdiagnosed by doctors who relate the symptoms to conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), depression and anorexia.
Sufferers are concerned with an overblown, imaginary defect or multiple defects in their appearance. It gradually becomes an obsession and, as a result, severe social consequences arise.
They often turn to drugs and alcohol and make attempts at selfdisfigurement.
Cognitive behavioural therapist David Knight said: "Although it starts as a teenager, it is often left untreated for many years.
"Most of my patients have been sufferers for more than 15 years, but have just now managed to come for treatment.
"I have patients ranging from teenagers to people in their 50s."
BDD patients' behaviour is seen as unusual by others - particularly their eating habits or obsession with looking in the mirror constantly.
Olivia said: "I remember coming back from school and sitting in front of the mirror and staring into it for anything from half an hour up to 12 hours.
"I would just sit and analyse every single detail and realise how horrible it was. I once tried to bleach my face to get rid of the freckles."
Areas sufferers frequently identify as problematic are the face, hair, skin and nose.
Research suggests that more women are prone to seek help for the disorder than men, although the number of cases is relatively even.
Olivia's boyfriend has also shown signs of BDD. His dad took his own life.
She said: "In my research I found the disease is common to both men and women, but tends to be more common with men who often don't seek help for illnesses."
Olivia, originally from Laurelvale, Northern Ireland, has received therapy from her doctor in her home country. She said: "The therapy helped a little bit, but the doctor doesn't have the personal experience to draw on.
"I was prescribed anti-depressants, but they don't really work and doctors are so quick to hand them out."
Leading scholar in the field of BDD, David Veale, said: "There is evidence for the benefit of cognitive behaviour therapy and selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors in high doses for at least 12 weeks.
"There is no evidence of any benefit of anti-psychotic drugs or other forms of psychotherapy.
"The patient may develop depression, OCD or anorexia as a consequence of an undiagnosed BDD.
"The perceived flaw may even spread to more than one body part if they do not receive therapy when the issue arises."
The issues related to BDD are often deep rooted and arise from problems at a young age. …