In a story that is all at once sad and a disturbing snapshot of society as a whole, a teen in the United Kingdom attempted suicide after a growing obsession with taking the perfect selfie began to consume his life.
The Mirror news report reads disturbingly like an Onion post, but it’s very much real. The teen, started to take selfies when he was 15 (like many), but over time, it grew into an obsession that culminated with an attempt on his own life seven months ago. The report indicates that the teen would at times spend 10 hours a day taking hundreds of pictures of himself in different lighting conditions and after using a variety of skin products. He had dropped out of school and social life for six months and lost 28 pounds, becoming aggressive if his parents, both mental health professionals, attempted to intervene.
It’s worth mentioning that what the boy went through is not new, exactly. In 2011, he went to a casting call to be a male model, but was rejected on account of his body type and skin. Dissatisfaction with one’s own body can lead to many mental health issues like anorexia and bulimia. It’s not entirely surprising to see something like this crop up with selfies – something that is, by definition, all about self-image. The teen would have strong positive and negative reaction to comments on Facebook about his appearance, but that’s ultimately not the issue. What matters is his own anxiety over his image – something that became bad enough to drive him to suicide.
The teen is now being treated for Body Dysmorphic Disorder – anxiety about one’s own image – along with OCD and technology addiction. That treatment includes a riff off classic exposure therapy – having the boy walk around in public slightly disheveled, in an attempt to discredit anxious thoughts about the thoughts and judgments of others. The hospital staff also slowly weaned the teen off smartphone use and selfie taking, separating him from his phone for incrementally larger periods of time. The teen is now recovering, and working with a charity to raise awareness about mental illness.