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Dealing With the Stigma of Psoriasis

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

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.


Treatment for the Stigma of Psoriasis

Although it's indirect, there is another way of reducing the stigma of psoriasis: getting better treatment for the disease.

"The best solution to stigma is to clear the psoriasis," Lebwohl tells WebMD. "Clearing the skin is more effective than any other intervention. It improves a person's life by every measurement." Although you may be skeptical, the psoriasis treatments available now are vastly improved from what we had just a few years ago.  

Brodell agrees, and urges people with psoriasis to stay optimistic. "Anyone with psoriasis has to have hope," he tells WebMD. "Psoriasis may be incurable, but in the vast majority of patients it is controllable.  There are a lot of treatment options open."

Reviewed on September 29, 2009

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