A few years ago I was at work on a break. A gentlemen I had occasionally seen on the job walked up to me and sparked a conversation, what seemed like a friendly chat. After a few generic “get to know you” questions, he said something I will never forget: "What’s on your skin?” At this particular time in my life I felt very uneasy, uncomfortable, and awkward about my disease. As I processed his question and attempted to get my answer together he added, “You know… You are a really pretty girl, but you have ugly skin.”
My heart dropped. I didn’t know what to say or how to react. I went off on him a bit and then ran to the bathroom and cried.
Since then, I’ve learned a lot about self-esteem and turning conversations like these into a positive. But I share my story so that others don’t have to go through the same experiences I did. From work performance, to in-office culture, here are 5 ways psoriasis can potentially impact a person’s work life.
1. The uniform
Growing up I desired to be a model and play sports, and thought about the possibility of doing these things professionally. Unfortunately, the one thing that stopped me was the psoriasis. I thought about the uniforms I would have to wear in these careers that would expose my skin - so I never attempted these opportunities. I feared what those around me would think. I also was concerned on possibly being rejected by modeling agencies based on my skin.
According to The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Alliance, 23 percent of sufferers reported that their choice of career had been impacted by their psoriasis. There are other jobs, such as those in the food industry that require specific uniforms that one may consider when it comes to choosing a profession. However, many find ways to cover their disease in order to peruse the work they desire.
2. Depression and stress
Another study conducted at Johns Hopkins found that 32 percent of participants with psoriasis screened positive for depression. Your mood and behavior are two main results of depression that can affect work performance, and those with a visible skin condition such as psoriasis are at higher risk for entering depression.
Excess sleepiness, insomnia, mood swings, sadness, irritability, and social isolation are a few of the symptoms associated with depression. In addition to social interaction these types of feelings can affect work performance. As you could imagine this could have a negative effect on how one interacts with their co-workers and possibly customers. Pressures from work can also have a direct effect on the disease. If stress is a trigger for a person who works a high tense job, work may negatively affect the disease which could potentially cause resentment for the job by the individual.
3. Days missed from work or unemployment
The National Psoriasis Foundation collected information from 75,000 patients for a survey conducted from 2003-2011. The research found that 49 percent of working patients missed work days regularly due to psoriasis. The reasons vary, but work days can be missed due to agitation of the disease, treatment, doctor visits, and depression.
Compared to patients with mild psoriasis, patients with severe psoriasis have 1.8 times greater odds to be unemployed. Among those who were unemployed during the study, 92 percent stated the reason why they were not working was because of their psoriasis or psoriatic disease. Some people with this issue decide to receive disability, start their own company, or work from home. We can also conclude some who aren’t working probably don’t have health insurance, which could also mean a lack of treatment and doctor visits.
4. The distractions
As I wrote this article, I stopped at least five times to give my skin a good long scratch for minutes at a time. The symptoms of psoriasis can be very distracting. Patients report itching being the most distracting with pain and flaking to follow.
Mental distractions from psoriasis can also arise alongside the physical ones. I recently attended a meeting with the Federal Drug Administration where the topic of ‘quality of life and psoriasis,’ was discussed. A psoriasis patient with genital psoriasis gave an account of how awkward it was to live with her condition while at work. She expressed fears of her itching in public and it being confused for an STD by her peers.
I have spoken to many psoriasis patients who report being discriminated against in some way in the workplace. According to The Law Offices of David H. Greenberg, workplace discrimination can come in many forms, not just acts or words based on the appearance of your skin.
There are several ways they list that a job can inflict discrimination, which include:
- Your employer does not allow you to miss work for medical appointments
- Your employer does not accommodate your need to take a reasonable amount of time off of work
- Your employer will not provide reasonable on-site accommodations for your disability
- Your employer does not allow you time off of work to receive phototherapy, topical treatment, or internal medication
That being said, some patients also report being treated differently by peers. I spoke to a fellow psoriasis sufferer who gave an account of her job discrimination. She advised that her supervisor preferred her to give presentations at the opposite end of the table away from the majority of the group, because he felt the psoriasis flakes that fell upon her business suit was too much of a distraction. If you feel you have been discriminated against due to psoriasis, the NPF provides great resources to help you with your potential case.