How Does Stigma Affect Those with Psoriasis?
Psoriasis comes with aggravating and often painful symptoms like patchy inflammation, skin rashes, and fatigue. These symptoms alone are challenging, but many people with psoriasis also have to deal with the stigma that comes with the condition.
What is stigma? Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and stereotypes that are often internalized. Internalized stigma can affect a person’s self-esteem, confidence, and self-worth. It can also increase things like depression and difficulty coping with life’s stressors.1
There are many misconceptions about psoriasis
The most common one is that psoriasis is contagious and can somehow be “caught” if you come into contact with it. This is incorrect. Psoriasis is a chronic autoimmune condition that is caused by an inherited gene. It is not contagious.2,3
What are some other common misconceptions?4
- Psoriasis is caused by lack of hygiene. This is also untrue. Because a person’s overactive immune system speeds up skin cell growth, new skin cells do not wait for old skin cells to shed. Therefore, they pile up and create inflamed patches on the skin’s surface. It does not indicate a lack of cleanliness.
- Psoriasis is psychosomatic. This means it is all in “someone’s head.” This is false. Psoriasis is a genetic condition that affects more than 7.5 million adults in the United States.
- Psoriasis can be cured. Unfortunately, there is not yet a cure for psoriasis, only treatment methods that can help ease symptoms. While people’s advice on “the best cream or natural remedy” is often well-intentioned, you should speak with your dermatologist about which treatments will work best for you.
These stereotypes can be very damaging and can greatly influence a person’s quality of life, which can lead to isolation.
How stigma affects people with psoriasis
Research has shown that the stereotypes linked to psoriasis can greatly impact a person’s quality of life. A 2015 study even demonstrated that psoriasis is as stigmatizing as herpes.3,5,6
And because psoriasis lesions typically occur before the age of 30, the stigma surrounding the condition can impact an especially vulnerable period of a person’s development.6
As a result, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and judgment are common in people living with psoriasis. This can influence other areas of life. For instance, a person may hide their psoriasis from others. They may also avoid going out into public when a flare-up occurs.5,6
A 2017 study found that social stigma was linked to depressive symptoms and emotions. While psoriasis itself was not directly linked to depression, social stigma was the cause of these emotions.5
That same study also found those who experienced more depressive feelings were also:5
- People with a shorter periods of psoriasis flare-ups
- Those lacking social support
Social support is key
The more social support a person has, the better they are able to cope with their psoriasis. Family and friends who provide reliable support can help improve a person’s self-esteem and self-acceptance.5
Even though psoriasis affects millions of people, it is clear that the general population does not understand the condition. There is hope that, with continued awareness, stigma about psoriasis is reduced so people living with the condition can lead healthier, happier lives.
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