Physical symptoms aren’t the only things you have to deal with when living with psoriasis. Other people not understanding your condition and reacting negatively can affect you, too.
What Is the Stigma of Psoriasis?
The stigma of psoriasis often stems from people’s false beliefs about your condition. Some think you can catch psoriasis by touching someone who has it. Others think it’s an illness that only affects your skin. Neither are true, but both can lead to feelings of shame or loneliness, among other emotions.
One small study examined people’s attitudes and opinions about psoriasis. Participants looked at photos of psoriasis lesions and answered questions about the illness. Here are some results of the study:
- 48% of study participants were upset by photos of psoriasis.
- 61% believed an infection causes psoriasis.
- 41% said psoriasis lesions looked contagious due to scaling, color, and size.
- 85.7% said they would feel for sorry someone with active psoriasis, a much higher rate than any other skin condition besides acne.
A majority of people also said they would feel ashamed if they had psoriasis and uncomfortable touching someone else with the condition.
What Are the Effects of Psoriasis Stigma?
The stigma of living with a visible condition like psoriasis can create challenges that affect all aspects of your life, from personal to professional. Many people with psoriasis live with low self-esteem, shame, and embarrassment and have trouble connecting with others.
Relationships and intimacy
Dating and relationships can be more complex with psoriasis. Research suggests as many as 72% of people living with the condition are uncomfortable with dating, while 60% say they’ve avoided looking for an intimate relationship. When psoriasis affects sensitive areas like the genitals, you may avoid sex and intimacy because of pain, embarrassment, or fear of worsening your symptoms.
Having psoriasis may mean you’re less productive and social on the job. And if a psoriasis flare gets too bad, you might miss days of work. Some have changed jobs or even retired because of their condition.
If your psoriasis is visible, you’ve probably noticed someone staring at you or been on the receiving end of rude comments. It may happen in situations where your skin is more exposed or physical contact is possible, like the gym, pool, or hair salon.
People with brown skin tones who have psoriasis may face a different kind of stigma. Some people in your life may not believe that people of color can get psoriasis. Of course, this is false. Research suggests Asian, Black, and Hispanic people may actually have higher rates of severe psoriasis.
Psoriasis could also have a larger impact on the quality of life of people of color. This group shows higher scores on the Psoriasis Area and Severity Index (PASI) and worse mental well-being, including higher rates of anxiety and depression.
Mental health effects
Studies on psoriasis regularly show that people living with the illness are more likely to have depression, anxiety, thoughts of suicide, and suicide attempts. And the more serious your psoriasis, the higher your chances of mental health problems.
Younger people -- who make up a majority of those with psoriasis -- appear to face these challenges more often than older adults. That adds to the social pressures that young people already face growing into adulthood.
How Can I Overcome the Stigma of Psoriasis?
It takes knowledge, effort, and support from others. Here are a few ideas for improving your quality of life with this long-term condition.
Educate yourself and your loved ones
Learn all you can about psoriasis. Start with your family doctor or dermatologist. They can answer questions and listen to your concerns. Look for other reliable sources of information on psoriasis, like nonprofit and government groups.
The people in your life may not understand what psoriasis is, so consider sharing some facts to correct any myths. Let your family, friends, co-workers, and romantic partners know that psoriasis isn’t contagious. You can’t spread it through touch or any other way.
Also, remind them that psoriasis is more than a skin condition. It’s an imbalance in your immune system that can cause serious pain, swelling, and joint stiffness. There’s no cure for it, so you’ll have to live with psoriasis for the rest of your life.
At work, talk to your manager about how the illness could impact your job performance. When you have a disability, some workplaces must offer reasonable accommodations that allow you to carry out your job duties.
If you’re ready for dating and intimacy, be open with your potential partner. You may struggle with confidence or a negative body image. Talk through how psoriasis affects you -- body and mind.
Create a treatment plan
Research shows that besides improving your physical health, treating psoriasis symptoms could also help you feel better mentally and emotionally. Treatment usually involves corticosteroids to slow skin cell growth and clear up scaling.
Even with treatment, it’s likely you’ll have future psoriasis flares. Accepting this may allow you to live a more enjoyable life unrestricted by your illness.
Join a support group
It can be helpful to share your experiences with others on a similar journey. Look for psoriasis support groups through nonprofits like the National Psoriasis Foundation or the Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA). Many social media groups also offer support to people living with psoriasis.
Talk through your feelings in therapy
The stigma of psoriasis can lead to feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, and depression. If these feelings linger, think about talking to a mental health professional. They can help you make sense of negative thoughts and effectively manage them. There are even cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) programs that focus on people living with psoriasis.