UMD Sociologist Examines how Stigma can be Stressful for People Living with Psoriasis
Living with a chronic illness is stressful enough, but new research from a University of Maryland sociologist finds that stigma associated with psoriasis—an incurable, autoimmune skin condition that affects roughly 7.5 million Americans and 125 million people worldwide—adds to that stress and can permeate the boundaries of everyday life.
Dr. Alex Parkhouse, a medical sociologist in the Department of Sociology, conducted in-depth qualitative interviews with 23 people living with psoriasis in the United States. Many participants said they felt others viewed them as “different” because of their physical symptoms, a perception that affected everything from social interactions and family dynamics to job performances and career goals.
“Skin is an important part of one’s appearance and plays a critical role in establishing interpersonal relationships,” Parkhouse said. “Television commercials and other advertisements contribute to the visibility of psoriasis, but often inadequately characterize life with the condition and neglect to highlight hidden burdens, like stigma, affecting daily life.”
While prior research has clearly demonstrated that stigma is burdensome to people who experience it, findings from Parkhouse’s study, published recently in the , uniquely show how and in what ways, stigma acts as a stressor for people living with psoriasis.
Participants also revealed how personal and social resources such as friends, family, healthcare professionals and support groups, determine whether and how they cope and manage the effects of stigma-stress. Parkhouse hopes his research highlights the important roll stigma-stress plays in shaping illness experience, and this the study will contribute to a better understanding of psoriasis and other chronic illnesses.
“Explicitly investigating the role stigma and other stressors play in the daily experiences of people living with psoriasis or other chronic conditions will help researchers and healthcare professionals not only understand illness experiences more comprehensively, but will also contribute to effective measures aimed at reducing chronic illness-related stigma,” Parkhouse said.