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Yes, Acne Is a Mental Health Issue (So, Let’s Start Talking About It)

Posted by Sarah Otto on
Yes, Acne Is a Mental Health Issue (So, Let’s Start Talking About It)

I loved treating acne when I worked as a nurse practitioner. I felt like an investigator sifting through piles of products that had failed my patients time and time again, deliberately thinking through a regimen that would work best for a specific skin type.

While I’d like for you to believe the process was seamless, it was anything but. Unfortunately, there’s no perfect formula to treat any type of acne—and many times, we would have to change directions just to get it right.

For example, I could never convince a high-school football player to remember to put on his cream. In these instances, I would need to step back and assess the patient’s day-to-day life. For a busy teenager, a cream might feel like an annoying extra step—why not incorporate a treatment into the routine he’s already familiar with? So, we swapped out his regular cleanser with a medicated one. And guess what? He had a great response!

Despite its challenges, treating acne was a very fulfilling venture. Nine times out of ten, these patients experienced considerable improvement with just a few products. After diligently following their new prescribed routine, teenagers would return with huge smiles, feeling so relieved that their acne had cleared up just before the big dance. Young women who had been struggling for years had finally found the right combination of treatment before their wedding day! I mean, how cool is that?

However, these life-changing results didn’t happen overnight. Those who had the most success with their routine consistently used the products over a considerable amount of time.

As you can probably imagine, treating acne was such a rewarding process, especially when you got it right.

But the one thing no one ever talks about is the darker side of acne—the effects it has on a patient’s mental health.

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, acne can take a toll on one’s emotional health. Researchers have found in study after study that people with acne can also develop: 

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor self-image
  • Decreased quality of life 
  • A feeling of being all alone

It was not uncommon for teenagers to report bullying, feeling unattractive, embarrassment or avoiding social interactions like dances, sports or even class participation.

What’s worse is that this emotional distress is not only limited to those struggling with moderate or severe acne, but even mild acne can bring on feelings of unattractiveness. The AAD also confirms through research that the longer acne lasts, the more likely it affects one’s emotions. Delaying treatment can also lead to emotional distress and permanent acne scars.

I would become so frustrated while arguing with insurance companies when they wouldn’t cover acne medications on the basis that it was “cosmetic” and not a true medical diagnosis.

In a drawing from a large database of nearly two million people, a recent study from the British Journal of Dermatology found that those struggling with acne had an increased risk for developing depression.

Some believe that the same inflammatory process causing the acne may also be linked to the person’s mental health problems, while others believe that bad skin is the cause of emotional distress, alone. It’s a classic case of which came first: the chicken or the egg?

But whatever the cause may be, one thing is certain: acne is a medical condition that warrants treatment by a medical professional.

If you’re struggling with acne, you’re not alone. Even those with mild cases of acne are unable to clear it with over-the-counter treatments. In most cases, seeking professional help from a dermatologist is almost always warranted.

Simply put, acne is frustrating, embarrassing, and upsetting. Many feel that it negatively impacts their self-esteem and outlook on life. You should never dismiss these feelings. Even embarrassment or social avoidance can lead to a more serious emotional impact. This is not a vanity issue, this is a medical issue. A mental health issue.

If you feel you’re suffering from the effects of acne—no matter how severe—don’t be afraid to get medical help from a dermatologist, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant today. There is treatment, and you don’t have to struggle through this alone.

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