The Mental Health Challenges of Living with Psoriasis
Did you know that psoriasis sufferers experiencing lower levels of worry clear faster during PUVA treatment? The authors of the study conclude that people living with high levels of worry should be offered psychological support before and during treatment.1
Mental Health support works. Supporting our mental health is an essential and yet overlooked aspect of healing with psoriasis.
Mental Health: What it actually means
Mental health is a term that is used often, but I was unsure until recently what it actually refers to. The confusion for me comes from the fact that we all have ‘mental health’ and the term is used so often in conjunction with depression and other mental health disorders I was never entirely sure it applied to me. We all go through strains where our mental health is a bit off-kilter: periods of extreme stress, illness and transition for example. So really, we should all be talking a lot more about our mental health.
Can you imagine how much better the world would be if we talked about our mental health in the same way we talk about our physical health? For me, I use the term ‘a strain on my mental health’ when I am moving towards burnout. If I am pushing myself too hard and can feel my ability to cope reducing; when I am starting to doubt my decisions because I feel so tired and overwhelmed.
I know when I am developing a ‘mental health problem’ when I find myself being negative to myself, in a way I would never talk to a friend. When I start avoiding coffee dates with friends and avoid social events that are voluntary- like the bake-sale at my kid's school. When this is happening for more than a week, I know I need to seek help to reduce my risk of falling into depression.
Why we should be more focused on mental health as a community
Psoriasis affects our mental health, and our mental health affects our psoriasis. It is a vicious downward spiral once it gets out of control. This is why it is so important that we talk openly about how we feel. We need to share our frustrations, by sharing we are able to discover appropriate interventions and strategies that work.
Depression is not the only mental health challenge we are more likely to face. Living with psoriasis, we are more likely than the rest of the population to be diagnosed with anxiety and experience suicidal thoughts.
So what can we do?
Check out online resources
There are lots of Mental Health Support Days and hashtags. There is World Mental Health Day in October (in the UK) there is Stress Awareness Day on the first Wednesday in November and "Time to Talk" in February and Mental Health Month. Take part- you don't need to type anything or tell anyone, but the world will amass onto social media to talk about mental health and to share their experiences. It is liberating to hear other people talk about how far they went and how they got back to where they wanted to be. One of the biggest challenges I experience (and still experience as I recover) is that I don't have the right vocabulary to describe how I feel. I find myself saying things like ‘a bout of depression’ as if it was a slight thing, like my last cold. Which if you have ever experienced depression, you will know it is anything but. Hearing other peoples words can give you the language and the confidence you need to speak out and share your truth (and talk to your doctor).
Talk to your doctor
Mental Health issues now affect 1 in 5 of us,2 and there is no need to be embarrassed speaking to your doctor- a survey by the mental health charity MIND found that 2 out of every 5 visits to a G.P is mental health-related.3 The hardest part is getting out of your own way. I cried when I opened up to my doctor (who had been trying to tell me I was depressed for a year (yes I denied it for a year) and it was the release of the frustration and anxiety (and probably denial) that I had bundled up pretending everything was ok for so long. Things are often not ok. We need to talk about it.
Ways to manage mental health
You can heal without drugs. Leaving mental health challenges alone makes them worse. Do not avoid your GP because you want to heal naturally and then avoid the yoga classes you signed up for. Go and talk to your doctor. If it is suitable, you may be eligible for group or individual therapy. You may need pharmaceutical intervention just to get you to a place where therapy helps (or to a place where you can actually get to your appointment), and you may need longer-term interventions. You don't know until you talk to your doctor. Just go. I lost a year in denial that I will never get back. It's not worth it, get out of your own way.
Talk to your dermatologist
The severity of depression in patients eased as the severity of psoriasis eased. Taking pharmaceutical drugs can help you while you work on your mental health. Use them as a tool if you need them. I heal naturally most of the time, but when my mental health starts to go downhill, I go to my doctor for a prescription for my skin.
Editors Note: In the US there are resources that are available to those who need help. You can call 1-800-273-8255 and speak with a trained mental health practitioner. The hotline is open 24/7 and offers free and confidential support. For those located in the UK you can find a list of resources available to you through the NHS.
Does your psoriasis skin feel out of control? How are you managing?