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Dealing With the Stigma of Psoriasis

How can a person with psoriasis fight back against ignorance and prejudice?

Living With Psoriasis continued...

"People really can feel like lepers when they have psoriasis," says Alan Menter, MD, president of the International Psoriasis Council. "They're shunned."

The stigma of psoriasis can have a particularly destructive impact on a person's intimate relationships. "Psoriasis doesn't only show up on knees and elbows," says Brodell. "It can also appear on the genitals." Some people with psoriasis give up on dating altogether, rather than having to explain their condition.

Because of the stigma of psoriasis, many people keep it a secret if they can. "Psoriasis is a very hidden condition," says Menter. "It's amazing how often people will hide it for a lifetime from their families, even from their siblings or their children." They just wear long sleeves and long pants and never say a word.

While there are celebrities with psoriasis, Menter says, it's been almost impossible to coax them into speaking out about the condition. "They're afraid to let the public know that they have psoriasis because of the potential stigma," Menter tells WebMD. "So that's why you're not going to see a celebrity doing a telethon for psoriasis."

The Stigma of Psoriasis: Fighting Back

So what can be done about the stigma of psoriasis? Obviously, there's no easy answer. The problem with stigma is that it's fixed in the beliefs of other people. There's no way to single-handedly change them.  But there are still some things that you can do.

  • Learn about the condition. Become an expert. Having a better understanding of your condition not only helps you, but it makes it easier to explain it to others. It can also give you a sense of what to expect from social situations and how to prepare for them.
  • Talk to your family and close friends. You're not obligated to tell anyone, of course. But you might find it helpful to have a core group who understands your condition. Keeping a secret, and living in constant fear of exposure, can add enormous stress. Besides, psoriasis can be a physically and emotionally debilitating condition.  It's stressful to carry that alone.  Knowing there are people who understand -- and who will help you when you need it -- means a lot.
  • Educate others. It's not always easy, but some people combat the stigma of psoriasis with education.  When they meet someone who doesn't understand, they explain what psoriasis is.  They stress that it isn't contagious. For instance, Schwartz put up a video of himself talking about psoriasis on YouTube.  He then handed out business cards to people with the web address on the back so they could learn about the condition.
    Trying to educate people about psoriasis has several benefits. Obviously, it helps one more person understand. It reduces the world's ignorance just a bit. But it does more than that -- it gives you back some power. Psoriasis can make you feel helpless, like you're always being defined by other people's perceptions. By taking action and teaching others, you're defining yourself.
    Still, there's no underestimating the difficulty of spreading the word about psoriasis to a suspicious and sometimes hostile audience. Sometimes, you'll feel like you're beating your head against a wall. And it's not realistic to expect that a person can cheerfully meet every instance of discrimination with a smile and education. 
  • Get support. Psoriasis is a condition that can drive people into isolation. Joining a support group is a great way to see that you aren't really alone. Try the National Psoriasis Foundation, which has self-help groups throughout the country. Seeing a qualified therapist is another way of getting some support.


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