Body Dysmorphic Disorder is one of the most under-recognised mental disorders that exists. It leaves sufferers disgusted by what they see in the mirror – struggling to find a way out.

For most, those with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) avoid seeking help. The enormous shame that one feels with their appearance often serves as a hindrance to taking the right steps towards recovery.

A form of BDD, known as Compulsive Skin Picking or Dermatillomania, leaves people habitually and excessively picking or scratching at their skin.

Scratching skin
Model representing the behaviours of Compulsive Skin Picking.

Liz Atkin, aged 39, has suffered from this type of BDD for over thirty years.

“I would have dried blood on my fingernails”
Liz Atkin, sufferer of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Liz’s experience with Compulsive Skin Picking stemmed from growing up in a troubled and alcoholic household. It was at the age of six or seven, when the picking began.

The illness peaked in her late 20’s, “I was picking in my sleep, I was picking right from early in the morning. It would be very troublesome for me all throughout the day. So I’d be picking and have dried blood on my fingernails and everything like that for a long time.”

Audio: Liz describes what Compulsive Skin Picking feels like. 

“I started working with it rather than against it”

In an attempt to ease her suffering, Liz began to create artwork to distract her hands from subconsciously picking – whilst also trying to transform her pain into something visual and visible for people to understand.

Audio: The beginning of Liz’s artwork.

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Liz creating a Compulsive Charcoal drawing – Portrait by Lenka Rayn H

The success of Liz’s artwork has had a huge impact on people who have been suffering in silence. She is now a mental health advocate and since 2013, has been exhibiting her work in schools and galleries, even as far as Los Angeles and Japan.

“Those kind of moments are massive.”

Liz has been delighted in the awareness she has raised – helping others realise that they too may have BDD. “Those kind of moments are massive. I think that if I’d heard about this disorder 10 or 15 years ago, my life would have taken a very different route.”

Examples of Liz’s artwork and collaborations can be seen below and on her website:

“I’ve got a real responsibility”

Liz’s artwork has been an incredible and unique treatment in helping her manage her Body Dysmorphia.

She continues to raise awareness and help others, “I feel that this disorder gets hardly any press and in fact I’ve got a real responsibility to spread an informed message, which hopefully I’m doing.”

To see more of Liz’s artwork and to learn more about her mental health advocacy, click here.


More facts about Dermotillomania:
– It is a Body Focused Repetitive Behaviour
– It can affect as many as 1 in 20 people
– It occurs in both men and women
– The exact causes are unknown
– People who have compulsive skin picking often have other psychological symptoms such as anxiety