The Mind-Skin Connection
New Field, New Treatment Possibilities continued...
For example, every time your hand reaches above your neck, grab a pencil and write a sentence.
When children develop stress-induced skin conditions, the onus may be on adults to ask what kind of impact the skin disease is having on them and what kind of stressful events they are going through because very young children experience stress just like adults do, Mallin says.
"Maybe they are being teased or bullied," she says. A doctor or parent can ask about school and friends to find out if the child is socially connected or excluded form normal social activities," she suggests.
The mind-skin connection makes all the sense in the world to Shelley Sekula-Gibbs, MD, clinical assistant professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
"Studies that show that at least 30% of all dermatology patients have some underlying psychological problem that often goes unaddressed, at least on initial visit, but if addressed, it can have a very positive and powerful impact in improving the skin condition," she says.
[During development in the womb], the brain and skin are derived from the same cells, so there is a connection," she says. "And the other immediate relationship is that when people experience stress in life, quite frequently, their skin becomes a reflection of the stresses."
What to do varies depending on the condition and the cause, she says.
"If the condition is short-lived, such as a college student gets an acne flare during finals, there is not much to do because stressors are episodic," Sekula-Gibbs says." But if the stressors are more chronic, such as a difficult marriage or a person is unemployed and unable to find work, the dermatologist would be well served to try and address the social issues involved."
Perhaps, she suggests, a social worker, marriage counselor, or psychiatrist can help. But if the patient is clinically depressed as a result of a skin condition, depression is causing the skin condition, or they are suffering from a psychosis or obsessive-compulsive disorder and might be hurting themselves, safer and easier-to-tolerate medications are available, she says.
The bottom line is that "if the dermatologist and patient are both aware that the stressors exist, then they are better suited to deal with problem, but if no-one talks about it, it can't be addressed." Sekula-Gibbs urges patients to "speak frankly to your doctor about issues that are bothering you."