I wrote this on World Mental Health Day (10 October) in 2020, it’s still relevant.
CW: Discrimination, ableism, diverse mental health, suicide
A 2020 study from the American Academy of Dermatology found:
“Many patients with ichthyosis have undetected psychiatric distress. They face harassment, discrimination, and uncomfortable skin symptoms often only relieved by time-consuming treatments.”
From birth, people with Ichthyosis (and our families) are told that our skin is unsightly and needs fixing. By doctors, by well meaning strangers, by the skincare industry and the media. Even the grief from parents and family can impact our self worth.
We experience daily exclusion, bullying and ridicule. We experience discrimination in all areas of life. People are scared to touch us, and embarrassed to be seen with us.
The media affects how we see and love ourselves. These are some actual headlines from media articles:
“The snakeskin woman”
“We’re two rejects who found each other”
“Mother gives birth to a ‘plastic baby’”
“Mum says her baby girl’s skin is like ‘petting a snake’ due to rare skin condition”
These, along with the social media comments on the articles, are so harmful.
It can be hard to love ourselves when we look like this, and when we are ridiculed and excluded.
When I was nine, I didn’t want to live anymore. I told my Mum and Dad I was going to kill myself. The bullying because of my skin was too much to bear. They sought psychiatric help for me immediately. It hasn’t been easy since (I’ve had panic attacks in recent years, and I find the discrimination hangover exhausting) but I’ve found many reasons to live & to thrive with Ichthyosis. And I want to be the person I needed when I was nine.
To those of you struggling with your skin condition – be it Ichthyosis or eczema or another severe diagnosis – you are not alone.
You aren’t any of those de-humanising headlines.
You deserve love from yourself and from others.
You should be seen.
It’s ok to seek help.
And I’m so glad you’re still here.
Please – if you see a dermatologist due to a skin condition, ask them to connect you with a counsellor. Talk about how you’re feeling with trusted family, friends, teachers, others with severe skin conditions, and mental health professionals. Don’t be alone.
And if you’re a parent of a child with Ichthyosis, connect them with other children and adults for peer support, and to see what’s possible.
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Image:: 1. A selfie of a woman with a red face and short dark curly hair tied back, wearing a navy, orange, blue, purple and yellow floral hoodie, she’s smiling slightly. 2. a black square with gold text. It reads: “Ichthyosis affects mental health in adults and children”
Image: a black square with gold text. It reads: “Ichthyosis affects mental health in adults and children”
Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology – 2020