People with skin conditions that affect their appearance urgently need specialist mental health support.
As the UK’s leading charity for everyone with a mark, scar or condition on their face or body that makes them look different, we welcome the report, Mental Health and Skin Disease, published today by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Skin (APPGS).
Outside of the NHS, Changing Faces currently provides the UK’s only free counselling and wellbeing services for children, young people and adults needing appearance-related mental health and wellbeing support.
This report highlights that children with skin disease are not being offered support services, leading to a profound impact on their long-term mental health and wellbeing into adulthood.
The APPGS found that 100% of children and young people surveyed indicated that their skin condition affected their psychological wellbeing, and a majority (85%) had low self-esteem, particularly in relation to engaging with peers at school. Whilst 98% of adult skin disease patients reported that their condition affects their emotional and psychological wellbeing, only 18% have received some form of psychological support.
Becky Hewitt, Chief Executive, Changing Faces, said: “This is an important report which highlights the dire lack of NHS mental health provision currently available for anyone with a skin condition in the UK today.
“We back wholeheartedly the recommendation that all children and young people experiencing mental health distress associated with their skin condition must have access to appropriate mental health support. Early intervention is key to supporting children and young people to manage their anxieties around their conditions, enabling them to live the lives they want to lead, and preventing further, more complex, and costly needs emerging in adulthood.
“Since the COVID-19 crisis began, the severity of mental health need from callers to our Support and Information Line has increased significantly. The waiting list for our counselling service has grown over 40%. It is essential that mental health and dermatology, and practitioners based in organisations like ours, work together to meet the needs of children and adults with skin diseases now, and into the future.”
Changing Faces ambassador, Natalie Ambersley, shared her experiences as part of the APPGS evidence gathering session. She said: “I was proud to share my experiences of living with vitiligo and contribute to this important report.
“Growing up with a visible difference can be an isolating and lonely experience, regardless of the support friends and family may offer.”
Professor Andrew Thompson, Consultant Clinical/Health Psychologist, Clinical and NHS Advisor to the Parliamentary Group on Skin’s expert committee, and Changing Faces Trustee said: “Skin conditions are incredibly common and for many people there is an impact on wellbeing. Significant symptoms of anxiety and depression are reported by some patients. In addition, both adults and children living with visible skin conditions often report experiencing bullying and discrimination.
“This report draws on both existing research and new data collected by the group to provide politicians, commissioners, and NHS providers with a clear set of recommendations for addressing the woeful level of service provision in this area.”
With fewer than 5% of dermatology clinics across the UK providing any level of specialist mental health support for children and young people, the free one-to-one counselling service provided by Changing Faces is often the only support available for children with skin diseases and their families. This service is currently completely reliant on voluntary funding from our supporters, including BBC Children In Need and Garfield Weston Foundation.
We would like to work directly with NHS England to tackle the growing gap in specialist mental health support available for children and young people with skin diseases, which has worsened in the wake of COVID-19.
We already work in a partnership model with NHS Clinical Commissioning Groups to deliver our Skin Camouflage service, and call for NHS England to work with it to explore a similar model for its counselling service, so more children and young people with skin conditions can receive the support they deserve.
Becky Hewitt added: “We mustn’t forget that this isn’t simply about supporting people with skin conditions; we also have to change attitudes. Millions of adults with a visible difference, including skin diseases, tell us they feel excluded from public life, often facing loneliness, isolation, and even hostility.
“Changing Faces campaigns to end appearance related discrimination, and to improve the representation of people with visible differences across society, in media, advertising campaigns and popular culture.”