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Dealing With Psoriasis and Depression: One Woman’s Story
- By Regina Boyle Wheeler
- Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
Depression is a common complication for people with psoriasis. Here’s how one young woman is able to deal with the dual diagnosis and also help others.
For Lauren, 21, psoriasis has taken an emotional as well as a physical toll. The college student from Michigan was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease at age 12, just as she was entering the tricky middle school years.
“It was very difficult to be a young girl and deal with having braces and glasses, and giant red spots all over my body,” she says. Other students mistakenly thought they would catch it, she says, and they didn’t want to be in the same gym class as her.
For most of her middle and high school years, the stigma of psoriasis made Lauren sad and depressed. She dealt with her emotions as best she could. “I don’t think it really became that debilitating or overwhelming until about my senior year,” she says. The stress of applying for college and worrying about which doctors would treat her psoriasis when she left home pushed her over the edge emotionally. Lauren was diagnosed with clinical depression and began managing it with antidepressant medication.
The Psoriasis-Depression Link
Depression is two and a half times more likely to affect people with psoriasis than it is the general population, says Julie Nelligan, PhD, a clinical health psychologist in Portland, Ore., and an expert on the emotional impact of chronic disease. And those younger than 40 and living with psoriasis are four and a half times more likely to have depression. “This is believed to be because of the importance of finding a partner, building a career, and making friends in the years before age 40,” Dr. Nelligan says.
“Research studies show that women with psoriasis experience depression and anxiety at higher rates than men with psoriasis do,” Nelligan says. More than half of all people with psoriasis also have anxiety.
For Lauren, anxiety is a factor in her depression for sure. Although her current medication has kept her psoriasis under control for the past two years, she’s always fearful it may stop working. “No matter how much I feel like I’m resolved to having psoriasis, I’m often terrified that the psoriasis symptoms could come back as bad as they once were,” she says. “I don’t really know if I could handle it as well as I say I could.”
Recognizing Signs of Depression
It’s important to know the signs of depression and seek professional help if your depressed mood is making it hard for you to function normally, Nelligan says. Common signs of depression include:
“If you think that what you’re feeling isn’t normal, talk to someone,” Lauren says. “Ask the questions you’ve been curious about. It’s better to take this important first step than to let how you feel get to a scary place.”
Managing and Treating Depression
If you believe you’re depressed, getting psychological counseling or joining a support group can help. Antidepressant medication may also help you feel better. But one of the best ways to improve your quality of life is by successfully treating your psoriasis. If your current treatment isn’t working, talk to your doctor. Changing medications or adding treatments like phototherapy may help ease your psoriasis symptoms and clear your skin.
People dealing with a chronic disease like psoriasis are under an incredible amount of stress, Nelligan says. So getting a handle on it is especially important. “There’s a vicious cycle to the relationship between stress, depression, and psoriasis,” she says. “Stress can increase the possibility of a flare, the flare can increase depression, and people who are depressed don’t respond as well to treatments.”
To get the upper hand on psoriasis and stress, Nelligan suggests getting enough rest and exercise, eating healthy, and socializing. Practicing relaxation techniques like deep breathing or yoga may also help. Avoid bad lifestyle choices like eating unhealthy foods and drinking too much alcohol.
“These unhealthy behaviors may make coping with psoriasis more difficult and increase the risk or severity of a flare,” she says.
Lauren has found that her psoriasis improves during the summer, when school stress fades away. Carefully exposing her skin to more sunlight during the warm weather also helps.
She now helps others going through what she experienced by working with the National Psoriasis Foundation in its one-to-one mentor program. Lauren shares what she’s learned from nine years of dealing with psoriasis with those who are newly diagnosed with the condition and struggling with feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety. It lifts her spirits, she says. “What I really enjoy is providing people with a resource that wasn’t available to me when I was first diagnosed,” she says. “I definitely enjoy helping others.”
Last Updated: 6/20/2014
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