As a dermatologist, I have come across many patients with psoriasis in my practice and heard countless accounts of their experiences of being stigmatised and feeling isolated because of their disease. Strangers staring at their skin, being afraid to shake hands for fear of “catching it”, or being treated differently in the workplace. This truly can be devastating. Such experiences can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression. These feelings often impact psoriasis patients’ relationships, making it difficult to talk openly about how the disease impacts their daily life.
You know this – I know this – EVERYONE needs to know this:
Psoriasis is NOT contagious – you can’t “catch” this skin disease by touching, no matter how hard you try!
But how can you feel more comfortable in your own skin? Here is some advice I give my patients who are living with psoriasis:
You need to educate others
Psoriasis is a chronic condition and there is nothing to be ashamed of. You are much more than your physical appearance! Others wondering why your skin looks different are not intending to be rude (although I know that it can feel like that!). They do so simply because they don’t know what it is. This is why educating others about psoriasis is key. It might be hard at first to begin the conversation, but it does get easier with practice. Starting by telling them, “I have psoriasis. My immune system makes my skin grow much faster than yours. It’s not something that can spread to other people.” Every patient has their “own” psoriasis. You can also work with your doctor, a friend, family member, or local support group to find other ways to express yourself and teach others about your condition. By making an effort to educate others, you can feel more confident to address the misconceptions that can lead to social stigmas.
Find your psoriasis “in crowd”
There is nothing like being able to talk to someone who understands what you are going through. Connecting with others who have psoriasis through support groups can be helpful. This is a place where you can feel safe and ask others for advice without fear or judgment. Over time, you may even become a more active contributor to help others who have been more recently diagnosed.
Be honest with your family and friends
Let’s be frank. For a lot of people, connecting to your feelings is not an easy thing to do. Most of us avoid these conversations and pretend that everything is fine. Firstly, naming those feelings can help you understand yourself better. Does a situation make you feel… embarrassed? stressed? frustrated? angry? sad? misunderstood? alone? And secondly, it can help you to talk with your family and friends. They are more able to support you if they understand what you are going through.
Learn to recognise the signs of depression
People with psoriasis are almost 1.4 times more likely to experience depression. Depression has symptoms which are different than just “feeling the blues” like inability to sleep, feeling like you can’t get out of bed, loss of energy, lack of interest in things you used to enjoy, and inability to focus. If you are struggling with feelings of depression, speak to your GP.
Have a treatment strategy
The best way to take control of your psoriasis is to develop a treatment plan in partnership with your GP or dermatologist. If your psoriasis is not getting better or you’re not happy with your treatment for whatever reason, tell your doctor. Although psoriasis has no cure, there are many treatment options. Work closely with your doctor to find the treatment regimen that best fits your needs.
Misperceptions of psoriasis are hard to combat – you can’t control what people think, but you can control how you react. This is about addressing your mindset and using strategies to look at things through a different lens. You might feel that this is easier said than done. Your GP can help to recommend a counsellor or psychologist who can teach you ways to put it into practice.
Dealing with the stigma of psoriasis can be stressful, but with the help of your family, friends and support groups, you can learn to be more comfortable in your own skin. You can also read more about the causes and triggers of psoriasis and tips to avoid flare ups.
For more information on finding a local support group, jump to the Take the Next Step links below.
Lotus Mallbris, MD, PhD, was a Senior Medical Director and the global medical lead across several investigational dermatology programs at Pfizer.
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- 4. Reus VI. Psychiatric Disorders. In: Jameson J, Fauci AS, Kasper DL, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Loscalzo J. eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 20e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; Accessed January 29, 2019.