Treating the Skin: A Psychological and Dermatological Crossroads

The potential psychological impact of having a visible skin condition, like vascular lesions, spider telangiectasia and rosacea, is not life threatening, but it is much more than just skin deep. Psychodermatology, a new medical discipline, has been developed specifically to address the cause and effect relationship between mind and skin.

Studies by the American Academy of Dermatology, as well as other leading groups in the field, have revealed the following:

  • Depression is a frequent side effect for patients dealing with chronic skin disorders.
  • A study pertaining to psoriasis revealed American adults with psoriasis have suicidal thoughts at three times the rate of the general population.
  • 26% of adults with moderate to severe psoriasis have changed or discontinued parts of their normal daily activities.
  • Unemployment rates are higher among adults with acne problems.
  • Two out of five children with skin disorders also suffer from some sort of psychosocial impairment.

Interestingly, no correlation was found between the severity of the patient’s condition to the severity of their psychological distress. A person with only a mild case of rosacea may develop severe psychological distress or almost none at all, and vice versa. Each degree of treatment success also saw its own wide array psychological symptom abatement. If a patient’s skin responded well to treatment, the patient would also respond well psychologically. Greatest life satisfaction, however, was achieved by patients who were able to accept that some symptoms might remain or recur regardless of the success of their treatment.

Treatment of a patient’s physical symptoms may be only half of the battle, but that battle is getting easier to fight every day. Intense pulsed light therapy is one example of an effective, non-invasive, non-ablative skin treatment which often gets results with almost no patient downtime and greatly reduced risk of side effects.

The other half of the battle engages the psychological effects of a patient’s physical symptoms.

Psychodermatology isn’t as established in the United States as it is in Europe, where some countries have been at the forefront of this treatment for quite some time. In the United Kingdom, initiatives like YP Face IT (which stands for “Young People, Face It”) have launched as an online outlet and education forum for young people who may have an unusual appearance.

According to the ‘About’ section of their website, These conditions range from any of the following:

  • Skin conditions like, vitiligo, ichthyosis, eczema, acne, psoriasis, neurofibromatosis or epidermolysis bullosa.
  • Scarring from accidents, burns or surgery.
  • Medical treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy.
  • Conditions from birth, for example birthmarks, cleft lip or other craniofacial conditions.

The organization offers a seven-week program designed to teach kids coping strategies and social skills, while also providing a support group of others who are experiencing the same struggles.

YP Face IT is still being evaluated for effectiveness, but preliminary results suggest the program improves assertiveness and social skills and decreases social anxiety.

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