We should be able to confide in our doctors about all of our health concerns. But for many people with skin conditions, such as the one in five Canadians living with acne, bringing up related mental health issues with a physician can result in feelings of disappointment and shame.
A recent survey by the British Skin Foundation (BSF) found that nine out of 10 dermatologists say that health care providers aren’t taking the mental health toll of having a skin condition seriously.
“Skin patients often experience that they are not listened to or understood by their healthcare providers. The occasions that they are listened to and understood are rare and extraordinary,” Dr Alexandra Mizara, consultant psychologist and BSF spokesperson said in a statement.
Beauty blogger Lex Gillies told Refinery29 that when she told her doctor how having rosacea made her feel, they didn’t provide much support. She felt “devastated” and “like I’d wasted the doctor’s time with something so superficial.”
Gillies isn’t alone in her experience. Many people have complained on Twitter about their doctors’ responses to their skin concerns.
It’s not just what skin looks like; even treatment can adversely impact one’s mental health. Acne drugs like isotretinoin, better known by the brand name Accutane, have been linked to depression and an increase in suicidal thinking.
Dr. Anjali Mahto, a dermatologist and author of “The Skincare Bible,” wants the public to be made aware of the mental health toll that doctors overlook.
In May, Mahto posted to her Instagram, “Acne is associated with depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, bullying, shame, exclusion in the work place and even suicidal ideation. Yet, even though it is 2019, skin conditions are commonly overlooked as simply a cosmetic problem.
Canadian researcher recommends doctor-led prevention
The mental strain felt by those with skin conditions can be severe. A 2018 study led by Calgary researcher Isabelle Vallerand found that people were over 60 per cent more likely to report depression a year after getting acne than people with clear skin.
“This is the first study to show conclusively that acne can be more than just a skin blemish, and can have a substantial impact on mental health in the form of clinical depression,” Vallerand told CBC News.
Vallerand suggested that doctors take the preventative route when it comes to their patients’ emotional states and that they “should encourage any of their patients with acne to feel comfortable raising any mental health concerns to their attention, as these should be taken seriously.”
This early intervention might look like writing a referral to counselling services or a psychologist.
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