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Mental Health and Skin Connection

     

Connections between skin problems and mental health concerns may not seem obvious, but they are connected in numerous ways. People with certain skin conditions are significantly more likely to have some mental health conditions like depression. Some skin conditions are triggered by or made worse by emotional stress. And certain mental health conditions contribute directly to skin problems.

While most skin conditions are not contagious or life-threatening, many are visible and may be socially stigmatizing, may affect the way a person feels about themselves and may affect their relationships.

For example, severe acne or psoriasis can cause shame, embarrassment, or low self-esteem, which can, in turn, contribute to depression or anxiety. There is much evidence of the connection between skin disorders and symptoms of depression. 1

Stress is associated with the start or worsening of several skin conditions. Among people with psoriasis, 44 percent of patients report stress relating to initial flare up of psoriasis and up to 80 percent say stress is related to recurring flare-ups of psoriasis.2 For more than half of people with eczema, a condition where patches of skin become inflamed, itchy and red, a stressful life event occurred just before the onset of the condition.

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Some psychiatric disorders directly result in skin problems, such as skin-picking disorder (excoriation disorder) and chronic hair-pulling (trichotillomania) which can lead to bald patches. Both conditions are types of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

For those with psychological issues that intersect with skin problems, it may work best to treat both at the same time. 1 If psychological problems related to skin conditions are untreated, they can prevent traditional skin treatments from working effectively, according to Caroline S. Koblenzer, M.D, a retired clinical professor of dermatology and a trained psychoanalyst. 3

Treatment may involve a team approach with psychiatrist, dermatologist, therapist and may involve medication, therapy and/or stress reduction techniques. Mind-body techniques, such as relaxation, meditation and hypnosis may be helpful for generally reducing stress and anxiety, improving a sense of control and enhancing immune function. 1 Various types of psychotherapy can help understand what is happening and in changing behavior and thought patterns. For some, medications to help with symptoms of depression or anxiety may be useful.

References

  1. Harvard Medical School. Harvard Women’s Health Watch: Recognizing the Mind-Ski Connection. 2006.
  2. Jafferany, M. Psychodermatology: When the Mind and Skin Interact. Psychiatric Times. 2011. http://www.psychiatrictimes.com/psychotic-affective-disorders/psychodermatology-when-mind-and-skin-interact
  3. Hilton, L. Psychological problems impact skin disease. Dermatology Times, August 31, 2015.

     

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