Next up, in my A-Z of Mental Health series, I will cover the subject of Bigorexia.
Bigorexia? What’s That?
Bigorexia, also known as Muscle Dysmorphia, is a form of anxiety disorder; which has only recently become a recognised illness.
Bigorexia also falls into the Body Dysmorphia category, in that the sufferers’ perception of their body shape doesn’t match the reality. It has been dubbed by some as the opposite of Anorexia, in the sense that sufferers believe themselves to be thin and feeble, when in actual fact, they are muscular.
Bigorexia affects around one in ten men in the UK alone. The figures could be a lot higher than this, due to the condition not being commonly known amongst non-professionals, leaving many more sufferers undiagnosed.
Sufferers are most likely to be gym goers, bodybuilders and those who weight train.
What Causes Bigorexia?
As with all forms of anxiety and body dysmorphia, Bigorexia is caused by a number of factors, including, but not limited to:
- Genetic predisposition
- Chemical imbalance of the brain
- Traumatic events, such as bullying
- Pressure from society, to look a certain way; in order to be perceived as a strong masculine man
How Serious Is Bigorexia?
It’s deadly serious. When I use the term “deadly,” it isn’t an over-statement, it’s a fact.
In the same way that sufferers of Anorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them thin; sufferers of Bigorexia abuse medication and supplements, to make them bigger.
Abuse of anabolic steriods and high protein supplements, can have catastrophic consequences on the sufferer’s health. Most of us know that steroid abuse can lead to heart attacks, but there are also some other very worrying effects of abusing steroids, including:
- infertility and reduced sperm count
- increased risk of prostate cancer
- erectile dysfunction
- breast development
- stomach pain
In addition to all of this, sufferers of Bigorexia are at an increased risk of developing depression. This can in turn, lead to suicide.
How Can I Tell If I, Or Someone Close To Me Has Bigorexia?
Sufferers of Bigorexia display the following symptoms and behaviours:
- Compulsively exercising
- Looking at their bodies in the mirror for long periods of time, or excessively
- Abusing steroids and protein supplements, such as protein shakes
- Dramatic changes in their muscle tone and build
- Extreme changes in diet
- Forgoing their usual activities, in order to spend more time in the gym
- Verbalising their perception that they’re not big enough, or muscular enough
- Becoming anxious or agitated, whenever they’re unable to exercise, or go to the gym
How Is Bigorexia Treated?
The usual course of treatment for Bigorexia is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, alongside a course of anti-depressant medication.
If a sufferer has developed a steriod addiction, they will be placed on a drug rehabilitation programme, which includes drug counselling.
What To Do If You Suspect Someone Close To You Has Bigorexia
As with all mental illnesses, the first thing you need to do, is try not to rationalise it. Many mental illnesses occur without a tangible, or logical reason. Laying blame, or demanding answers from the sufferer, will only cause more harm.
Get as much information and support, as you possibly can. Consult your doctor and the organisations listed at the bottom of the page.
Understand that there is no one-size-fits-all quick fix. Everyone is different, and what may work for one sufferer, may not work for another. Recovery is a long process, which requires a lot of patience and empathy.
Where Can I Get Help And Support?
There are many sources of support available to you. I’ve listed some helplines and organisations below, who offer help and support to sufferers and their families.
Sources of Support In The UK
Telephone: 0300 123 3393
Infoline: 08444 775 774
Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation (BDD Foundation)
There is a wide range of information, and details of online and face-to-face support groups, on their website.
The link is: BDD Foundation
As with the BDD Foundation, their website is a good source of help and support.
The link is: OCD UK
For sufferers who have an associated addiction, Narcotics Anonymous can offer help and support.
Telephone: 0300 999 1212
Sources Of Support In The US
Website: Reach Out
Narcotics Anonymous World Service
Again for those who’ve developed an associated addiction, the link below offers information on drug rehabilitation treatment
Anxiety and Depression Association of America
This list is not exhaustive. Your doctor may be able to help you access other sources of support and help. If you live in another part of the world and are affected by Bigorexia, I will be more than happy to help you access sources of support in your area.
Photo by Christopher Campbell, courtesy of Unsplash