World Vitiligo Day is observed on June 25th each year to raise awareness about vitiligo, a chronic skin disorder that causes depigmentation. It aims to promote understanding, support, and acceptance for individuals living with vitiligo. Beyond the physical impact, people with vitiligo often grapple with self-esteem and body image issues. The emotional toll of living with this condition can be significant, leading to feelings of insecurity and isolation. A September 2021 study in the American Journal of Clinical Dermatology revealed that individuals with vitiligo often face emotional challenges, including low self-esteem, sleep disturbances, anxiety, negative self-image, and depression.
Another study published in the journal Middle East Current Psychiatry found that approximately 75% of people with vitiligo experience psychiatric issues like depression, anxiety, and stress. However, there are various strategies to help individuals cope and foster a positive self-image. It’s important to provide support and encouragement for those navigating the challenges of vitiligo and promoting self-acceptance and resilience. (Also read: World Vitiligo Day 2023: Date, history, significance )
Addressing the Emotional Impact of Vitiligo
Shruti Garg, Coordinator, Department of Psychology, Youth for Mental Health (YMH), shared with HT Lifestyle her personal experiences living with vitiligo. She says, “I have had Vitiligo for the past 19 years, and I have been across multiple instances where people around me have consciously and subconsciously passed comments on my appearance. When you live in a society that is driven by societal beauty norms, people often put you under the spotlight when you don’t fall under those norms. I got Vitiligo when I was three years old. Fortunately, my parents never made me feel as if I was different from anyone else. It was always a very normal thing at home. The way my immediate family dealt with it played a huge role in shaping my understanding of Vitiligo.”
“In school, I always participated in extracurricular activities that helped in building my confidence. Engaging in my hobbies apart from academics helped me in developing my sense of self. It helped me understand that my personality was beyond Vitiligo. Getting in touch with people with similar conditions, reading about their stories, and watching movies that talk about the same often make me feel a sense of belongingness. It makes me feel that I am not alone and that I am being heard and it adds to my sense of being. Once you start looking at yourself with a particular lens, people start resonating with that lens,” says Shruti.
She added, “I never felt bad for myself, all my energies went into indulging myself in various activities which gave me happiness. Accepting yourself is never easy, especially when you look starkly different from everyone around you, but when you are on that journey, you realise how things are interrelated, and how your idea of yourself will build your image for others. On the toughest days, when I come across harsh comments which make me question my appearance, I do get overwhelmed at that moment, but then I remind myself how far have i come in terms of my abilities and potential, there are aspects of my personality that are much bigger than my appearance, I have a supportive set of people around for whom I am not Shruti with Vitiligo, but only Shruti.”
Isha Wali, Psychologist and OB Head, Youth for Mental Health (YMH), shares with HT Lifestyle, “Self-esteem refers to the value you place on yourself, and in a society where appearance is valued more often than not, it is no secret that visible skin disorders like vitiligo have been associated with low self-esteem and poor body image along with other mental health issues such as isolation, social anxiety, depressive symptoms and low quality of life. Given the intersectionality of mental health, factors such as age, sex, race, ethnicity and culture are also known to affect individual experiences with vitiligo. For example, young South Asian women tend to experience a greater psychological burden of vitiligo owed to marriage prospects and the stigma attached to it.”
While the responsibility of de-stigmatisation rests upon societies and cultures globally, here are some tips suggested by Isha on how you can build your self-esteem:
- Seek social support – Surrounding yourself with friends and family who accept you and give you the space to have healthy, intimate relationships can prove to be the most crucial step you take towards building your self-esteem. This can also be sought by consciously meeting other people who have similar conditions. Knowing you’re not alone will help you cope.
- Advocate and educate – Imparting knowledge doesn’t necessarily guarantee the removal of biases, but it must start from us. Informing the people around you about how you expect to be supported can help pave the way for destigmatisation, thus giving you the space to freely express yourself without being ‘othered’.
- Seek professional help – Do not be afraid to ask for help. Remember that doctors, therapists and counsellors are trained to help you. However, always make sure they’re well qualified.
- Practice self-acceptance – While medical treatments, if affordable to you, can always help, it is important to be compassionate towards yourself and build your own confidence. Be unapologetic, take charge!
Remember, vitiligo is not your identity, you are so much more than that.