Wednesday 24 April 2019

'In teenage minds, the more attractive and slimmer you are, the more attention you get'

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is becoming more prevalent among teenagers (Stock image)
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is becoming more prevalent among teenagers (Stock image)
Sinead Moriarty

Sinead Moriarty

Everyone knows how difficult it is to be a teenager. Raging hormones, changing body shapes and the sudden pressure of the opposite sex taking an interest in you, and you in them, can be overwhelming.

Imagine adding to that a face full of acne that you can't hide. You can cover up your body but your face is out there, on view, for all to see.

Far from being 'just a few spots', acne is a serious condition. New research from the British Skin Foundation has found that nearly 20pc of acne sufferers have considered suicide and around the same percentage have ended a relationship because of it.

With the teenage world being saturated with images on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat of perfect people with perfect faces and bodies, it's no wonder the anxiety around acne and issues like weight is getting worse.

The pressure to look 'perfect' has never been so intense. Teenagers constantly worry about how they look as their lives are played out 24/7 on social media.

Rather than simply labelling acne as an annoying skin condition and 'a few spots', experts are now warning that there needs to be more respect and care shown to girls and boys who live with it.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a growing issue among today's image-conscious teens. They agonise over noses that seem too long, skin that isn't perfect or excess weight that doesn't exist.

They spend hours checking and rechecking themselves in mirrors, or measuring and weighing their bodies again and again. In severe cases, patients won't leave their homes because of their imagined defects.

BDD is on the rise among young people with conditions like acne and anorexia. Some teens see themselves as fat or believe their mild acne to be acute and react accordingly. Sufferers become preoccupied with their spots, imagining them to be much worse than they are.

These beliefs severely interfere with the quality of their lives.

Whether a teen's acne - or belief that they are fat - is real or imagined, the stress it brings to their lives can be crippling.

According to the Health Research Board here, almost 14pc of all admissions for under-18s to Irish psychiatric units and hospitals had a primary diagnosis of eating disorders.

Girls accounted for 93pc of these admissions.

Girls also appear to be affected more by having spots, and have higher levels of emotional behavioural difficulties than boys.

Acne is believed to affect as many as eight in 10 individuals between 11 and 30 years of age. In girls, it is most common between the ages of 14 and 17, and in boys between 16 and 19.

Many report experiencing bullying as a result. Up to 60pc of people with acne have admitted to experiencing verbal abuse because of their condition.

Of the young people with acne surveyed, 66pc said they experienced a sharp fall in self-confidence and 56pc said making friends was a big problem.

Acne isn't just skin deep, it genuinely causes huge distress in young people and can ruin their lives.

Adolescents with the condition feel uncomfortable, often avoid eye contact and grow their hair long to cover their spots.

Girls use make-up to camouflage their acne even though it can aggravate the condition.

Some teens will refuse to participate in sports like swimming or rugby because of the need to change in front of others.

Acne is now the leading cause for visits to a dermatologist and the most frequent visible skin disease in adolescents. Because acne is so visible on the face it heightens issues of body image and socialisation in teens.

It isn't surprising that a teenager with a face covered in spots may develop significant psychosocial problems. Many acne patients have serious issues with self-image and interpersonal relationships.

Comments, taunting, bullying and embarrassment can lead teens to experience social anxiety and to start avoiding activities that bring attention to their condition.

Teenagers yearn to be accepted by their peers and as cruel and shallow as it seems, physical appearance does matter at this fragile time in the lives of children.

In the world of young people, the slimmer and more attractive you are, the more positive attention you will get.

The knock in confidence that acne causes teenagers has a ripple effect and some end up refusing to leave the house as they are so distressed by how they look. This social withdrawal can lead to depression and in some cases self-harm and even suicide.

Acne is also aggravated by stress. So the more upset the teen is about their spots, the worse the acne will get. Studies have shown that acne gets worse during exam time, again showing the negative effects of stress on the body.

It's important to keep an eye on your child and should you notice them becoming down in the dumps or withdrawing socially, take them to your GP.

Dismissing acne as 'just a few spots that'll clear up soon' is not good enough. These young people are struggling with day-to-day life as they try to negotiate the minefield of the teenage years and a face full of spots can be torture for them.

Listening to your children and taking their worries and concerns about their appearance seriously is vital. Dealing with the issue head on and providing your child with the proper medical care could prevent serious and life-threatening outcomes down the line.

Irish Independent

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