The Emotional Impact of Skin Problems

People with skin problems are at high risk of developing psychological problems.

People with skin problems are at high risk of developing psychological problems, and they can linger even after the skin gets better. The psyche-skin conversation goes both ways. Just as signals of psychological and emotional stress can lead to skin disorders, skin disorders often lead to psychological distress.

Here are some findings from the American Academy of Dermatology and other skin groups:

• Major depression is one of the main results of chronic skin disorders.

• Suicidal thoughts are another consequence. Consider some statistics on psoriasis. About 5% of the 4.5 American adults with psoriasis have suicidal thoughts - three times the rate of the general population.

• Other psychosocial side effects of skin conditions are social withdrawal, anger, frustration, and lack of confidence.

• 26% of people with moderate to severe psoriasis have been forced to change or discontinue their normal daily activities.

• Adults with acne face higher rates of unemployment than the general population.

• Kids with skin disorders suffer, too. Two out of five of these children have some psychosocial impairment.

Psychosocial distress is a natural, normal response to skin symptoms, especially in our society. Americans spend more on their appearance than on social welfare, health, and education combined. It's tempting to disparage our emphasis on appearance as hopelessly shallow. this adds to their psychosocial anguish. Your body image accounts for about one-quarter to one-third of your self-esteem, and your self-esteem is a major influence on your overall psychological health. So, when you have a skin disorder, your self-esteem and psychological health are affected.

What's surprising is that the severity of this psychosocial toll is only weakly related to the severity of the skin disorder. Someone with mild symptoms may suffer worse psychologically than someone with severe symptoms. It all depends on an individual's perception. That's why clinical improvement in a skin disorder does not necessarily make you feel better inside. A patient who suffers from a kind of skin post-traumatic stress disorder - their skin looks better, but they don't feel better. The dermatological scars are gone, but the psychological ones remain.

Published on January 9, 2010 by Ted Grossbart, Ph.D. Author of Skin Deep