Why psoriasis is nothing to be ashamed of
Living with psoriasis can be particularly difficult for young people. As a new confidential mobile-phone-based support service is launched, Jenny Lee speaks to one girl who has lived with the condition from the age of seven
GROWING up in today's world, dominated as it is for many by social media, is difficult enough without the extra pressure of dealing with a visible skin condition that can impact self-esteem cause severe discomfort and even painful joints.
Psoriasis is an immune condition thought to affect two to three per cent of the population, with a third of cases being diagnosed under the age of 16. While a number of different types of psoriasis exist, 80 per cent of cases are plaque psoriasis, which results in visible red scaly patches on the skin.
Every human being creates and sheds skin cells every day – it’s part of the skin’s constant replacement process. In someone without psoriasis, skin cells take 21 to 28 days to be replaced. However, when a person has psoriasis, this process takes just a few days. Their skin cells build up on the surface, creating hard plaques and flaky areas.
Anyone can have psoriasis at any point in their life, with common triggers including emotional stress, alcohol, hormones, smoking, skin injuries and certain medication.
A recent study from the Psoriasis Association has revealed that 77 per cent of young people who suffer from the condition believe it has a negative impact on their social life and 47 per cent feel that it negatively affects their studies or their career.
Ciara O'Brien (24), from Co Meath, knows this only too well, having suffered from psoriasis since the age of seven. Ciara is now unemployed – she had to drop out of her studies due to the flare-ups of psoriasis.
Ciara was doing a further education and training course, her subjects including customer service, digital media and technology, clerical skills and health-related fitness.
She ended up leaving education "due to bullying" over her psoriasis.
"People would stare and make remarks about it so I started to cover it up as best I could. Having it really bad on my scalp didn't help matters; I always felt so self-conscious about it. I hated going to school or going out with friends, as I knew people could see it," she recalls.
"Covering up, even now at 24, is still something I do when my skin is bad. I can't look at myself during those times as it makes me very upset and angry and I do feel very low in myself."
When Ciara’s psoriasis flares up, she can be covered from head to toe and in 2010 she was diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis, which also causes inflammation in and around the joints, and has an impact on her ability to perform everyday tasks.
A survey by the Psoriasis Association has found that 94 per cent of young people with psoriasis are affected by anxiety and depression; Ciara admits that she counts herself among them.
"It's so much more than a skin condition – it's more than the pain you go through. No-one sees what's going on behind all of that. I do think mental health needs to be something that is looked into more when you go to your appointments," she says.
"I talk to others who are going through the same as me, which is great because it does help talking to people who know what you’re talking about. Talking to someone about it, no matter what age I feel, is a great benefit."
A number of celebrities, including Kim Kardashian and The Only Way Is Essex star Jess Wright, have recently opened up about their psoriasis. Love Island start Georgia Harrison hit out at the negative comments of malicious trolls earlier this year after posting pictures on Instagram which revealed signs of psoriasis on her thighs.
"It’s #psoriasis and I’m not ashamed of it whatsoever. Everyone is beautiful in their own way and if someone can’t find the beauty in you then it says far more about them than it does yourself," wrote Georgia, urging those with psoriasis to support each other on social media.
In response to its survey, which also revealed that 40 per cent of young people would find it useful to talk to someone anonymously, the Psoriasis Association is launching a new support service specifically for young people, where they can chat anonymously with healthcare professionals via the free messaging service WhatsApp by messaging 07387 716 439.
DEALING WITH PSORIASIS
The Psoriasis Association offers the following advice on living with psoriasis:
- If you can be flexible with when you use your topical treatments, try using them in the evening or before you go to bed. Anything that leaves a smell or takes ages to sink in might leave you feeling uncomfortable and lacking confidence as you start to go about your day. It’s important, however, that you do follow the instructions of your GP, or on the treatment leaflet, regarding when and how many times a day you should use it.
- Moisturise, moisturise, moisturise. It’s the golden rule for people with psoriasis. Some people find it’s best to use a lighter cream or lotion in the morning, as it is absorbed quickly and won’t leave you running late or feeling greasy all day. If you do this, try using a heavier ointment before bed, to give your skin the intense moisturising it needs overnight.
- Dispense some of your moisturiser into a smaller pot that you can keep in your bag. That way, you can top up as and when you like, all day. This is especially useful in winter, when the cold weather means sore, dry skin.
- It’s best to wear cotton clothes whenever you can, as this lets the skin breathe and tends not to irritate psoriasis.
- When meeting new people, explain to them what psoriasis is and help raise awareness of your condition. It might help to reassure others that it’s not contagious – something along the lines of "Oh, that’s psoriasis. It’s a condition where I produce too much skin; it’s not contagious".
Young people can get further information on coping with psoriasis at Psoteen.org.uk