Skin Cancer and Mental Health
Last updated: September 2021
We have all heard the saying that first impressions make the most impact. What does that mean for someone with skin cancer who has visible symptoms on the skin? Not knowing how others will accept your symptoms can leave you feeling paralyzed with fear, anxiety, or even self-blame.1
“Will they think I have something contagious?”
“How will this affect my job?”
“What if no one understands?”
The social impact of having skin cancer can affect your mental health in many ways. Skin conditions may be overlooked as “only” cosmetic issues. The reality is, your mental health can suffer when others feel this way.1,2
Stigma is an often unspoken reality of skin cancer. Stigma is when there is a negative view of something or someone that is thought to be different. It is human nature to crave a sense of belonging. Stigma can prevent that sense of belonging for many people with skin disorders.3
We usually think of stigma from others, but stigma can come from within and lead to self-doubt, fear, and decreased self-esteem. Studies show that visible skin conditions like skin cancer may change how people see themselves and how they feel about their future over time. This can have a long-lasting impact on the hobbies, activities, and even careers they pursue.1
How can skin cancer affect mental health?
Having distress, depression, self-blame, or anxiety over skin cancer does not mean it is “all in your head.” Studies have shown that mental distress can worsen your symptoms. Stress and depression can lead to increased flares or symptoms, making you more stressed and depressed. This vicious cycle continues – stress, anxiety, worse skin symptoms – then repeat.4,5
Your mind and body are connected. The good news is, many doctors are beginning to address this connection to manage both your physical and mental symptoms better.1,2,4
Tips for coping with skin conditions and managing stress
Start by talking to your doctor. This may not be easy, but it is important to bring up your mental health. Working with your doctor allows a team approach to your care, making sure you get the best treatment for your body and your mind.
Educate yourself and others. Stigma toward those with visible symptoms may be due to a lack of understanding. One way to help reduce stress around skin cancer and social situations could be to explain to other people about your symptoms because helping them to understand could ease your own stress.
The importance of support
Find support from those with skin cancer. Close friends and family may be good choices for support, but having a group of people who understand what you are going through can be invaluable. Support can be in-person or online and can give you a safe place to talk to others.
There are many stress management techniques that you could try, such as:6
- Exercise or go for a walk
- Meditate and practice mindfulness
- Stretch and relax your muscles
- Discuss your stress with friends or family
- Eat a healthy diet
- Engage in hobbies you enjoy
If you find your stress difficult to manage, talk to your doctor to see if other treatments, like therapy, anti-anxiety drugs, or depression drugs are right for you.1,2,5
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