Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and thought that there was something wrong with your body? For some people, being worried and anxious about how they look is an everyday event…
Dominic Edwards is 31. As a teenager he started obsessively thinking about how his legs looked, “I would check men’s legs in magazines and check mine in the mirror. At its worst I’d be in front of the mirror for 10 hours.” The mildest comment that someone made; even if just in passing, would turn into an obsessional thought, “You become worried that in some way you’re different from other people. You’re operating on 20% because you can’t think about anything else”. Edwards suffers with body-dysmorphia disorder (BDD), a condition that affects 1 in 10 men in the UK.
According to Cognitive Behavioural therapist Stuart Mead, it is a condition where people have a preoccupation with a part or parts of their body, “It affects the way they think, feel, their relationships and the way they live their lives.” Edwards’ obsession with how he looked slowly started to get worse. He began to exercise excessively, having to go for a run everyday in order to relieve the worry he was feeling. It is an anxiety disorder affecting an increasing amount of men. Many of these will be suffering with muscle-dysmorphia, a form of BDD that leads men to abuse their bodies, overdose on steroids and in some cases can drive them to suicide.
Many sufferers are turning towards steroids as a means of helping them get the body they think they should have. Figures published by the Home Office show that 60,000 people were using steroids in 2014 but it is estimated that there are a lot more. According to Professor Julien Baker, who specialises in steroids at the University of the West of Scotland, needle exchange centres have seen a usage increase of 600% in the last decade with the average age of steroid users being men in their early 20s. Between 2009 and 2012, the number of teenagers who used steroids more than doubled. Professor Baker’s research has found that children as young as 13 are now using them, but why are people taking steroids and what has led to this increase?
Experts believe that the growing culture of quick results and instant gratification could be linked to the rise in BDD sufferers choosing steroids. This sentiment is echoed by drug-free British bodybuilding champion Jon Harris, “People want results now rather than later, it can’t be done overnight so the shortcut is to use drugs to get there.” Altug Kop, who suffered with muscle-dysmorphia from the age of 16 believes that the “pitfalls” of Instagram and Facebook are to blame:
“You get images of shredded men thrown at you everyday and it’s not realistic for 99% of the population to look like that.”
Kop had always idolised the biggest names in wrestling and wanted to be just like them. He thought he could look like the top names in wrestling almost instantly. Some of the trainees at his wrestling school squashed his naivety and told him he would never get there naturally and pushed him into considering the use of steroids. Following two years of researching, Kop decided he was going to take them, “I felt I had to give myself that edge.”
Harris considered taking steroids at 19 following an international competition but after doing research, he decided against it. He found that there were lots of options to compete drug-free, “I felt I had an avenue I could pursue safely and didn’t need drugs”. With many psychological and physiological effects associated with them, people believe they are taking steroids to look better when in fact they could be doing the opposite. Professor Baker explains, “One of the main consequences is an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and of cerebral events.” With the Internet being so accessible, it’s no wonder that buying steroids is so easy. Kop fell into this by purchasing his online but realised it wasn’t going to be that simple, “I was always scared before I did it because you heard horror stories about people going into their sciatic nerve.” Accidental damage is a danger associated with the use of steroids and a lack of knowledge is one of the biggest killers. Professor Baker conducted a study and found that over 30% of the samples analysed were counterfeit, with one containing aftershave and olive oil, “You don’t know what these people are putting into the substances they are selling.”
In the last five months, two young men died from steroid use;
one of whom idealised wrestlers.
The average BDD sufferer will keep silent for a long time before seeking help, some even waiting 10 years. Edwards knows all about this, “I suffered in silence until everything started falling apart, I was late all the time”. With this silence comes the danger of suicide, it is estimated that 1 in every 330 people diagnosed with BDD take their own lives each year.
LiAs with other mental disorders, families play an essential role in the recovery process. Edwards’ father was the one who helped him realise he had a problem and encouraged him to see a doctor. The treatment for BDD involves a combination of medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Sufferers are given SSRIs, antidepressants that decrease the obsessive and compulsive behaviours. Mead explains that CBT works by looking at situations people find themselves in and their reactions to them. The therapist then works with the sufferer finding ways to change those reactions and thoughts into something positive.
Kop and Edwards battled with their body demons but have found ways to cope with BDD. Kop has started a fitness blog to help people excerise without becoming obsessed with aesthetics. His modus operandi is to stop kids from getting into steroids, “You can’t inject years of training in a bottle”. Edwards now works for the BDD foundation helping other sufferers to cope with their disorder, “There is a way out, I was diagnosed at 19 and have been getting better ever since.” You can keep your body and soul together.