Psoriasis can make you itchy and uncomfortable. Treating it can be annoying and time-consuming. But some of the worst effects of psoriasis are emotional. You may feel like your psoriasis gets in the way of your relationships. It can make people treat you strangely.
Depending on where it is on your body, psoriasis can be an embarrassing disease. People around you may not understand your condition and be frightened by it. Even your good friends may refuse your offers to help them out in the kitchen by chopping vegetables. You may find that you don't get invited to beach parties anymore. You may feel like some people avoid you.
"Unfortunately, people's ignorance of this disease is hard to overcome," says Bruce E. Strober, MD, PhD, co-director of the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Center at New York University. "It happens all the time that people with psoriasis won't be allowed in a swimming pool, or that others will move away from them on a crowded train. It's a shame."
The Psychological Cost of Psoriasis
Psoriasis can make you feel deeply isolated and excluded, and that can have serious psychological costs. When it's combined with the chronic discomfort that psoriasis can cause, your emotions can be difficult to handle. Coping with psoriasis can create stress, and stress can make psoriasis get worse. There's even some evidence that worrying about your psoriasis may make treatment less effective. This can become a vicious cycle.
"Psoriasis has a tremendous impact on quality of life," says Strober. He says studies have shown that psoriasis detracts more from quality of life than any other condition except depression -- and that's including life-threatening illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
A 2009 National Psoriasis Foundation survey found that 63% of respondents said their condition affected their emotional well-being. Obviously, psoriasis is much more than just a skin condition.
Coping With People's Reactions About Psoriasis
So what should you do? While it might seem like great advice to ignore other people's reactions to your psoriasis, that's not realistic for most people. We're all dependent on others. Even the most self-confident among us are affected by how people see us.
One thing that might help is to try to explain psoriasis to other people. Explain that it's not contagious and that it has nothing to do with poor hygiene. Explain that it's an incurable lifelong condition but that you're being treated for it. It's especially important that your family and friends understand this.
Educating people, of course, isn't practical in every casual situation. There are times when you'll have to ignore the stares. No one should have to spend his or her life being a cheerful spokesperson for psoriatic understanding.
Getting Help for Your Emotions and Psoriasis
If you feel like your psoriasis is detracting from your life and making you miserable, try to seek professional help. If possible, find a therapist who's treated people with psoriasis before. Your doctor might be able to make a recommendation. In some cases, antidepressant medications may also help you cope.
Another option is to seek out a support group, either in person or on the Internet. Ask your doctor for suggestions. Talking to people dealing with your condition might make you feel a lot better and less lonely. You might also learn good tips from others about dealing with and treating this condition.
One of the best things you can do is to keep going to your doctor. Feeling depressed may make you want to give up and retreat from life, but that isn't a real option. You have to keep fighting and stay involved in your treatment. Several newer treatments can clear your skin rapidly.
"People with psoriasis have to know that they're not alone," says Jeffrey M. Weinberg, MD, director of the Clinical Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York City. "And although we can't offer a cure at this time, we do have the options to improve it."