Every year, over 540,000 people in the UK are estimated to acquire a disfiguring condition to their face, hands or body – from birth.

Improving mental health services

When we talk about access to mental health care, we generally refer to the availability of psychological therapy services, the length of waiting time, the way people are referred and by whom and whether the service can be provided locally. All these things are important, but some are principally key for people with disfigurements.

The timing of psychological therapy is particularly important, as it often determines whether people respond positively and whether they believe that it could be beneficial. The lack of understanding about mental health encourages feelings of shame, and discourages people to seek treatment or to understand that symptoms may be related to mental difficulties.

The stigma attached to mental health is a general problem in society, not specific to people with disfigurements. However, the combination of physical recovery and emotional, social and psychological ‘instability’ that some people with disfigurements experience as a result of a changed appearance can mean that people feel even more threatened by the use of the term mental health.

Therefore, psychological therapy is most likely to be helpful when integrated into physical care pathways, reducing the ‘distance’ between physical and mental health care and making it less of a threatening experience.

The stigma attached to mental health is one of the reasons that there is a lack of funding for services and public education. Changing Faces advocates for more funding for psychological therapy services as well as for more cost effective use of resources.

Quality of mental health services

The quality of psychological support services for anyone affected by a disfigurement or visible difference is largely dependent on the experience and expertise of appearance related psychology.

Specialised mental health professionals, or professionals with an interest and expertise in appearance are much better equipped to offer help for people of all ages who are coming to terms with a different or unusual appearance or a disfigurement. As stated above, the timing of the provision of psycho-social support is very important as well, and most effective when offered in an integrated, emotionally accessible manner.

We can help train professionals, including mental health professionals to better meet the needs of people with disfigurements from any cause. We offer a general set of training courses, as well as tailored courses for specialised areas.

For more information, please contact Ivon van Heugten, Policy Advisor in Health, or call 0345 450 0275.