Severe acne may prompt suicidal thoughts

By J_Howard

For many young adults, pimples are not an uncommon problem and can trigger self-consciousness. For those who struggle with acne, it is something dealt with on a daily basis, both physically and mentally. A new study by the Journal of Investigative Dermatology suggests there is a connection between acne and suicidal tendencies

in teenagers.

The study included 3,775 participants aged of 18 and 19, and of those, 14 percent had substantial acne. Suicidal ideation was twice as frequently reported among girls if they had severe acne, and three times more frequently among the boys with

severe acne.

“I think it supports a notion that a lot of us have often had,” said Peter Lio, dermatologist at Wicker Park Dermatology. “When people don’t feel like they are looking their best—especially in our society that is so appearance-based—they feel depressed.”

For someone who is feeling hopeless, persistent acne is a serious condition, said Scott Hunter, associate professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the University

of Chicago.

“This certainly may contribute to some individuals feeling more depressed, more worried and [thinking] it may never go away and not get better,” Hunter said.

Acne can interfere with the way one goes about his or her life. Lio said the daily implication due to acne is not an uncommon thing to hear from patients.

“I have had a lot of patients say they have canceled meetings or canceled events because of acne breakouts,” Lio said. “So they lose their self-confidence, they lose their sense of self. I think it makes people feel more introverted and depressed when they have severe acne in particular.”

In the past, depressive symptoms have been associated with isotretinoin, a high strength acne medication, best known as the former brand Accutane, manufactured by Roche.

“In the medical community, there has been a long question about whether or not one of the most potent acne medications, Accutane, was causing an increase in suicide among young people,” said Victoria Barbosa, owner and medical director of Millennium Park Dermatology.

The study’s researchers said they did not address the claim that the medication increases suicidal ideation and depression. But Barbosa said the study is a good piece of information that points toward the conclusion that depression and thoughts of suicide could be linked to acne itself.

“It’s not a big leap to believe in many cases that people are probably depressed in part because of their acne,” Barbosa said.

A combination of factors, such as bacteria on the skin, hormones and genetics contribute to acne and how severe the case can be.

Hunter explained that suicidal ideation is not the most common psychological effect of acne, though an important one. The psychological effect discussed most often is social withdrawal, not just for teenagers, as the study represents, but for young adults as well.

“This could impact how [college students] believe they are going to have a successful entry into adulthood,” Hunter said.

Acne mentally affects genders differently. Hunter explained how women tend to be more open about the issue of acne and how it affects their self-esteem, while men have been more reluctant to share their feelings about it.

“That actually has contributed to some concern of boys being at greater risk for developing a more serious depression in response to some of these changes,” Hunter said.

For those who are dealing with both acne and depression, Lio and Hunter emphasized the importance of seeking help with those struggles by both a dermatologist and a mental health practitioner.

“I like to tell people it’s not their fault they have acne,” Lio said. “They didn’t do anything to bring it about, but it’s our job to try and help them get better.”