Information for Educational Professionals (School & Uni)

Based on the available research, we know around 2% of the students in your school, college or university are likely to have this disorder. If you are aware of a student who has BDD, there are a number of ways you may be able to support them.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a psychological condition where a person becomes very preoccupied with one or more features in physical appearance, e.g. nose, skin, hair, etc. The concern can be very specific (e.g. “my nose is too big”) or it may be vague (e.g. “I feel ugly”). People with BDD engage in behaviours to ‘fix’ or hide the perceived flaw/s that are difficult to resist or control (e.g. frequently checking mirrors, seeking reassurance, etc). What is BDD? >

BDD can seriously affect a person’s daily life, including school, social life and relationships. It is very common for young people with BDD to feel anxious, upset, depressed because of their appearance concerns and experience life as being a struggle. What are the symptoms of BDD? >

Possible signs of BDD in school/college:

  • Stepping out of class to check mirrors or other reflective surfaces
  • Wearing excessive make-up or not adhering to uniform rules at school as a way of camouflaging appearance
  • Regularly arriving late, inconsistent attendance or not attending at all
  • Seeking reassurance about appearance
  • Avoiding certain lessons such as P.E where aspects of their appearance may be more visible
  • Appearing distracted and finding it difficult to focus in class due to appearance worries invading students mind
  • Avoiding being around peers or groups
  • Student becoming distressed or upset in class
  • Decline in academic performance

How do young people get help for BDD?

It is difficult to manage BDD alone. Having supportive people on the young person’s side will make it easier for them to get the right help.

There are lots of ways young people can get help:

  • Tell someone they trust
  • Make a GP appointment (taking this information leaflet with them to their appointment)
  • If the GP agrees they may be struggling with BDD or appearance anxiety they will refer the young person to Child and Adolescent Services (CAMHS) (called Emotional Wellbeing and Mental Health Services (EWMHS) in some geographical areas.

The good news is that there are effective treatments for BDD! The UK’s national guidelines for BDD recommend two treatment options: Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) for BDD and/or medication.

What can schools/colleges do to help?

We know that BDD is as common as other mental health difficulties. In fact, based on the available research, we know around 2% of the students in your school, college or university are likely to have this disorder. If you are aware of a student who has BDD, there are a number of ways you may be able to support them.

Tips on how schools can help:

  • Students may need a time-out in lessons if they are feeling anxious or overwhelmed
  • They may need extra time to complete work in lesson or homework tasks
  • Avoid all comments on appearance – even positive statements and don’t discuss the perceived defect.
  • Be aware student may be tired due to the appearance worries and lengthy rituals they often engage in
  • Special adjustments may need to be made to ensure the student is not disadvantaged because of their difficulties e.g. extra time in exams or taking them in a smaller room
  • Be aware that students with BDD may experience difficulties with peer relationships and suffer low self-esteem, so you may need to keep a lookout for any teasing and bullying of the student
  • It may be helpful to speak to the student to understand what likely triggers are for them and to help identify stressful aspects of school. Exploring this together can help you and the student come up with a plan to manage this (e.g. how can they discretely signal if they need to leave the class? How they can minimise the impact on learning and academic performance)
  • If the student is having treatment, have regular contact with family and therapist about specific provisions they will need in place to manage symptoms at school. It is helpful to ask about what they are working on in treatment and how the school can help, as the school may be a helpful environment to support and build on the student’s learning from sessions.
  • Learn more about BDD by watching our videos, listening to our podcast ‘Beating BDD’, or reading these books
  • Share these leaflets:

What Can Universities do to help?:

Reasonable Adjustments

The 2010 Equality Act in England, Scotland and Wales requires publicly-funded universities to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to enable people with disabilities to study without being at a disadvantage. The 1995 Disability Discrimination Act and 2005 Special Educational Needs & Disability Order in
Northern Ireland works very similarly.

In this context, ‘reasonable’ means that it must be effective, financially viable (often with the help of Disabled Students’ Allowance), fulfil health and safety requirements, and not disadvantage other students. An extra consideration for students in some vocational fields, including medicine and nursing, is that the reasonable adjustments must also fit in with what is required by the relevant professional body, such as the General Medical Council or Nursing and Midwifery Council. This means that adjustment made cannot affect the safety of that individual in future practice.

Examples of reasonable adjustments:

  • Extending coursework deadlines
  • Extra time/rests during exams
  • Time off when BDD is especially bad
  • Support from welfare and counselling staff
  • Taking exams in separate exam halls
  • Being excused from whole-class presentations

Helpful Resources

Young people’s experiences of body dysmorphic disorder in education settings: a grounded theory. Research study by Dr Nicole Schnackenberg

The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation. Charity no. 1153753.