Coping With Embarrassment & Social Isolation
Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: July 2016.
Although psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes excess inflammation in the body, the symptoms of psoriasis on the skin can be very visible. Living with psoriasis can have a wide-ranging impact on a person’s emotions and social life. In fact, surveys of people with psoriasis have found that the negative emotional impact of the condition is about the same as for people who have other serious conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and depression1.
Having visible plaques that are red, raised, and scaly can make a person feel self-conscious or embarrassed at times when out in public, particularly if the patches cover large areas of the body or are located in places that are not easily covered up by clothing, such as the hands, face, and scalp. There is a social stigma to having psoriasis, due to its often highly visible nature and the inaccurate belief many people have that it is a contagious skin disease. Some people find it so difficult to deal with that they avoid going out in public or leave their jobs, and so they can become socially isolated. Others find it difficult to talk to their friends and loved ones about how their symptoms make them feel2.
It is not uncommon for a person with psoriasis to feel worried or unconfident about their body, particularly when meeting new people in social situations or in the context of dating. Having psoriasis symptoms on or around your genitals can be especially hard to deal with in forming new intimate relationships3.
What does current research suggest about the link between these emotions and psoriasis?
There have been many studies conducted about the link between psoriasis, emotions, and social life. One study found that around three-quarters of people with psoriasis reported that having psoriasis made them less confident3. Another found that about 20% of people with psoriasis reported having had some kind of negative social experience due to the disease in situations such as the hairdresser, pool, or gym. Those patients also reported that it made them more likely to avoid social situations where these experiences might happen again. Around a quarter of people with psoriasis in another survey said that their career choice had been affected by having the condition4.
What steps can people with psoriasis take to help cope with the emotional and social impact?
One of the key pieces of advice for dealing with the social impact of psoriasis is to find ways to communicate your feelings with people you trust. Instead of keeping your feelings to yourself, let friends and family know when you are feeling down or isolated, and they will likely be eager to provide emotional support and encouragement1. There are many support groups available where people with psoriasis can interact in person or online. Many people find that talking to other people who are actually living with the challenges of the condition can make it easier to feel connected and open up about their feelings, share experiences, and learn tips for coping2.
Other people find that learning everything they can about psoriasis can make them more confident in social situations. The fact that psoriasis is not contagious may help ease the anxiety of others. It can help you to educate your family and friends about psoriasis so that they can support you during difficult times. Also, understanding more about how the condition causes symptoms can make it easier to identify and avoid your own personal psoriasis triggers, which may make flare-ups less frequent and make you feel more in control of the condition5.
Communicating with your supervisor and/or co-workers about your condition can also help to dispel some of the myths and misconceptions about psoriasis and make your work environment more supportive. Studies have shown that people who have a supportive supervisor and workplace environment are more likely to be able to stay in their jobs.
If you are feeling self-conscious during a flare-up, for example, consider covering up with clothing or body makeup/concealer. Cover-up cosmetic products can reduce the visibility of plaques, but they should not be used on open sores or unhealed plaques5.
When forming new friendships or romantic relationships, try to be as open as you can about your chronic condition and how it affects your life in different ways during remission and flare-ups. This can make you more confident and can also help the other person to feel closer to you and support you when needed6. For example, certain types of physical activities or intimacy may need to be avoided during flare-ups.
Maintaining your treatment regimen and striving for good overall health can reduce stress and make your psoriasis easier to manage and reduce symptoms. Managing the condition as effectively as possible can have a positive impact on your social life. It can make you feel less self-conscious, more in control, and less likely to miss work or feel socially isolated.