1. How much can your physical appearance affect your mental health? Physical appearance and body image issues has a large impact on mental health, particularly self-esteem and self-worth. Struggles with appearance (especially impacted by acne) can adversely impact mood, which in turn can lead to a vicious cycle - feeling badly about yourself, which in turn results in worse self-care, which in turn worsens appearance, and so on. If not addressed early on, it can result in a downward spiral.
2. What are some steps you can take when you feel your mental health is suffering? Taking an inventory of yourself can be helpful. What features about yourself (both physically and emotionally) do you like about yourself? Do you find yourself relying on external validation, i.e., how others perceive you for your self-worth, more than perhaps you should? Do you like you?
Obtaining a referral for a dermatologist from Student Health Services or your primary care physician may be helpful, as there are new effective treatments available. However, if you continuously struggle with not liking yourself, the acne issue may only be part of the picture. Seeing a counselor or therapist, either through Counseling and Psychological Services and your college, or a counselor or therapist seen privately can make a positive difference.
3. Even when your physical health is improving (such as your acne clearing), is it possible to still feel as if your mental health is affected negatively? Despite your physical health improving, people who suffer from concurrent depression may continue to feel badly about themselves: low energy, loss of interest in things, adverse effects on interpersonal relationships, isolating yourself because you don’t want to be seen, or keeping your distance from your friends because you’re fearful they won’t like you because of your appearance. Often there is significant peer pressure about the need to look your best and compare yourself to others. For some, it can become an obsession, resulting in excessive grooming or picking of the skin.
4. What mental health disorder (depression, anxiety, etc.) do you feel is the most common when your physical appearance is affecting you? According to a recent article in the British Journal of Dermatology, In the first year after being told by a doctor that they have acne, patients’ risk for
a diagnosis of major depressive disorder spikes by more than 60 percent compared to the general population - MORE. Other mental health problems can include persistent anxiety about the problem, and in severe cases, body dysmorphic disorder, where the negative thoughts become difficult to control.
There are many available treatments for acne and some of the resultant emotional fallout from it. Ask your provider at student health or your primary care doctor if you feel the acne is making you persistently sad or anxious. Your doctor can help you get the treatment you need. There’s no need to silently suffer!