Eczema is not just skin deep
The human skin is the largest organ in the body, measuring 1.8 square metres, but the impact of skin conditions on mental health cuts much deeper.
While skin is responsible for everything from experiencing touch, to detecting heat and cold and protecting from infection, there’s less awareness of the relationship between serious skin conditions such as Eczema and self-esteem.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a broad term that healthcare professionals use to describe a general group of conditions that may cause sin to become red, dry, itchy and scaly, and in severe cases, may weep, bleed and crust over, causing the sufferer much discomfort.
Sometimes the skin may become infected. The condition can also flare and subside for no apparent reason.
Almost 30 years ago we founded The Eczema Association of Australasia Inc (EAA), a non-profit charity, to place serious skin conditions such as Eczema under the spotlight.
Now, we’re turning that attention towards mental health, with an understanding that Eczema is #morethanjustskin
A 25-year study of more than 4000 Eczema sufferers, conducted by EAA from 1994-2019, has revealed:
- Females, at 59 per cent, are more likely to experience the condition than men at 41 per cent
- Those most likely to suffer are aged between 1-5 years followed by 18-35 years and 0-1 years
- Those least likely to suffer are aged 60+
- Eczema is most commonly diagnosed at, or soon after, birth with 53 per cent of surveys revealing diagnosis between the ages of 0-6 months
- A further 11 per cent were diagnosed before their first birthday
- 8 in 10 sufferers said Eczema moderately or severely impacted on their daily life
- Half of those described their condition as chronic
- Weather, stress and food were the top three triggers
- Eczema sufferers are 44 per cent more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviour and 36 per cent more likely to attempt suicide
- 43 per cent have reduced self-esteem and confidence
- 41 per cent say the condition impacts their sleep with 28 per cent feeling restless and agitated
- 1 in 4 say the condition impacts their ability to carry out everyday activities
Alarmingly, Eczema sufferers are 44 per cent more likely to exhibit suicidal behaviour and 36 per cent more likely to attempt suicide than the general population.
Just as our mental health can affect our skin, our skin can affect our mental health.
While not a life-threatening disease in itself, the impacts of Eczema have been reported as far reaching for sufferers and their families.
The social cost of Eczema can be wide-ranging from sleepless nights to absenteeism from work, school, personal activities and other responsibilities.
The constant scratching from Eczema can also result in Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and in severe cases, Eczema can result in hospitalisation.
All of which can pose a major threat to mental health.
Sufferers report frustration, anxiety and embarrassment which can lead to negative self-image and poor self-esteem, and in extreme cases, suicidal thoughts and actions.
But there is hope on the horizon. At EAA we believe a wholistic approach can enable sufferers to live long and fulfilling lives.
Top tips for managing Eczema
- Keep fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin
- Wear 100 per cent cotton or soft fabrics (avoid rough, scratchy fibres and tight clothing) and wear cotton mitts or gloves at night
- Use rubber gloves with cotton liners
- Have lukewarm baths and showers
- Use hypoallergenic products and avoid anything perfumed
- Gently pat, not rub, the skin dry with a soft towel
- Apply a moisturiser within three minutes after bathing to “lock in” the moisture
- Keep fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin and wear cotton mitts or gloves at night
- Avoid rapid changes of temperature and activities that raise a sweat
- Reduce dust mites
- Use sensitive skin washing powders and detergents
- Reduce daily stress
- Learn your eczema triggers and how to avoid them
- Develop and maintain a daily skin routine
Top tips for managing Mental Health
- Reduce and manage stress
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle
- Cut back on alcohol and drugs
- Take early action on symptoms relating to anxiety, depression and suicide
- Deal with setbacks and keep trying
- Sleep well
- Eat well
- Do relaxation exercises
- Identify the cause of your stress and review current coping mechanisms
- Talk to someone you trust
- Remind yourself of your skills and strengths, achievements and effort made during this difficult time
- Find time for activities you enjoy
- Access local support services
(Sources: Beyond Blue and Lifeline)
With an estimated one in 10 Australians suffering from Eczema, it’s time we held a mirror up to this condition. After all, beauty is more than skin deep and mental health matters. #morethanjustskin
Eczema Awareness Week runs from 3-10 May 2021.
If you need support, contact:
- Lifeline on 0800 543 354