Guest blogger Simone Ivatts talks about how living with a chronic skin condition can affect your mental health. This important issue is an often under-reported aspect of skincare.
How eczema and chronic skin conditions affect mental health
For those of us who live with eczema or other chronic skin conditions, the effects on our health are not just physical, but also mental and emotional.
On top of having to deal with all of the difficult and painful physical challenges of living with our condition, we also have to cope with the complex and debilitating emotional impact it can have on us. This can manifest in many ways, including:
Self esteem and skincare
Having skin that is red, flaky, oozing etc. can make you feel very self conscious and really affect your confidence. It can be hard to feel attractive when your skin condition is active and many of us just want to hide it away, though this is not always possible, especially when it’s on the face.
My first memory of feeling bad about myself due to my eczema was when I was 6 or 7 and some boys at school thought it was funny to sing ‘Old McDonald had an itch’ at me and to mimic me scratching.
And I can’t tell you how many times people have asked me where I’ve just been on holiday to get that sort of ‘sunburn’ on my face when we’re in grey and wintry Britain. Whether intentional or not, those sort of comments can make your self esteem plummet.
Anxiety and chronic skin conditions
Chronic skin conditions can cause anxiety about so many things, not least how it affects our ability to live our lives ‘normally’. My Dad has had psoriasis since he was a teenager, and previously had such severe flare ups that he almost died from it several times.
He told me that, for him, the anxiety would kick in when he was well again and he would worry about whether he would be able to hold down a job and support his family, as the illness would be all-encompassing for months when it got bad.
Depression and skin flare ups
When we are in the middle of a flare up, it can be hard to feel that it will ever end and we will be well again. Having a condition that can be hugely restrictive on your whole life can cause depression at varying levels, including suicidal feelings.
I’m lucky to have never reached that point, but I have struggled with seeing any light at the end of the tunnel and the depression that goes along with that.
Numerous studies have shown that mental health issues are comorbid with skin conditions and should be considered alongside the physical complaint when diagnosing and treating.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen, but it’s always worth talking to your GP. There can be a vicious cycle where stress causes flare ups, which lead to further anxiety and depression, and so on.
Mental health coping strategies
Aside from doing everything we can to soothe our troubled skin (see other Balmonds blog posts for tips on this), there are lots of things we can do to help our mental health.
Talking to other people you trust or those with similar experiences can be helpful, whether that’s online or in person, as can relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as meditation, tai chi and walking in nature.
As this week is Mental Health Week, lot of places are sharing great resources online, such as publications by and tips from the Mental Health Foundation. In most places, you can self refer to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) to try things like cognitive behavioural therapy or counselling for free. Know that you are not alone and there are lots of things that can help.
Simone Ivatts is a riot grrrl/book nerd who works for a community charity in Leeds and volunteers as a trustee of the wonderful and ancient Leeds Library.
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If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
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