A Face to Die for – Acne and Suicide

A Face to Die For?

How do you take it if somebody says they want to kill themselves because of their acne? When thinking about the contributing factors to suicide a lay person’s fast list might look like- divorce or break up, financial problems, drug abuse, chronic depression, grief over death of loved one and many more such tragedies. If you know anything about actual suicide facts and statistics you should take it very seriously.

For the majority of people acne means a 3-4 year period of having to wash their face a few times a day with a very mild soap or antiseptic cleanser, the embarrassment of an oversized pimple on picture day, school dance, or long anticipated date, and perhaps a few rude comments about the alien growth that appeared overnight on their face. For most, as they finish high school or by the time they enter their twenties, acne is typically no more than a very mild inconvenience and a sense of relief at having made it through that awkward stage.

Life is not so kind to all, however. There are some people where no amount of cleanser and face clarifying lotions and potions have any effect. Endless outbreaks of painful and sometimes disfiguring pimples and pustules go on for years from the onset of puberty and sometimes continue on well into their twenties or longer.

The Pain Caused by Acne  

It would be bad enough if it were simply dealing with the pain and discomfort, but the physical issues is often said to be the lesser pain when compared with the emotional abuse heaped upon them by others – those that look for ways to tease, embarrass or inflict pain on their peers for no reason other than a perverse feeling of by making others feel worse. These bullies are simply looking to improve their place in the world or their own self of self esteem. Sadly, it proves more impossible to eradicate this sort of person than even the seemingly impossible to control acne some have the misfortune of being afflicted with.

Where the real issue comes from with acne is the emotional pain and scarring that runs much deeper than the superficial scars on their skin. While the reality may be that there are relatively few who are so shallow or just mean enough to use the acne as an excuse to tease and bully, this few makes those suffering feel like that is the way all see them. It often even makes them begin to see themselves as deformed or ugly. Some  claim disgust at seeing their own face and will not go swimming or shorts for fear of exposing back, legs, o other places afflicted with acne or the scarring it has left.

This is where a common physical illness that the majority of people experience to some degree becomes a mental health issue of the most serious kind- the kind where a person feels the self-loathing or perceives disgusts from others that makes them think that death is preferable to living. While difficult to prove, it can be reasonably surmised based on discussions of the feelings that the acne was never the issue at all. They did not decide to attempt suicide because a few pimples or even because of 1000 pimples- they became suicidal because the way they were made to feel while trying to deal with this physical condition.

There are many things that over the years have become taboo. Even the school-yard bully typically will avoid blatant teasing of a person in a wheelchair or similar issue. Acne is one of those leftover areas that are overlooked as acceptable fodder for jokes and bullying. Perhaps because most suffer from some degree at some point they can claim to empathize or understand however that occasional oversized pimple for a couple days is no comparison to years of outbreak and lifelong physical scarring. This claim of “everybody has it – so I am not picking on anybody”  would be unbelievable if it were not so frequently upheld as a reasonable defense so the cruel jokes are ignored and it is implied the individual being taunted needs to “toughen up” instead of action taken against the one inflicting the pain.

Treatments and Reducing the Pain of Acne  

The treatment of severe acne involves both the physical treatment of the affliction and the mental health component that often is the result of being subjected to ridicule and emotional pain amplified by the fact it occurs during the developmental years of puberty early adulthood when a person begins to form their self-image.

Treating the Physical Symptoms

The physical treatment comes in 2 basic forms which are discussed in great detail in many places, but should also be talked to with your health care provider. Self-care, which involves best practices for treatment and prevention of acne and maintaining healthy skin. These involve the typical over the counter washes and antiseptics and extra hygiene care for those prone to acne as well as dietary concerns recommendations. The cost of this type of treatment can vary greatly with many acne treatments for even over the counter care costing $100 or more per month. To help reduce the costs, home remedies are available for those willing to research, but you should always discuss home remedies with a doctor and careful research for their safety as well as effectiveness.

To make this care affordable, it is always a good idea to look at what treatments are available and to carefully shop for these treatments. Many retailers specialize in treatments and have special programs that can be used to reduce costs. Using discount codes and coupons can save a lot of money if you are willing to shop around. Home remedies can be highly effective money savers too if caution is used to ensure safety. There are hundreds of home treatments found with internet searches but stick to things that your doctor can tell you are safe to try.

The other physical treatments are real medical treatments from a dermatologist with prescription medications. These medications include specific very strong treatments of acne for various skin types. There are hormone treatments, such as birth control pills to control the hormones that often trigger acne as well a specific range of high potency acne medications available by prescription only. These are effective at treating acne effectively  in many cases but also carry risks of substantial side effects.

Some common acne medications (such as Accutane/isotretinoin among others) may even cause increased risk of mental health issues such as increased feelings of suicidal behavior. This is perhaps another reason that acne is listed as a cause of suicide. Studies have shown however that suicide as a result of acne is a reality regardless of treatment. Use of these medications must be carefully supervised by your doctor or dermatologist. Make you are well informed of all potential benefits as well as risks before choosing this type of treatment.

What types of treatment are there for acne scars? Acne scars may be treated with laser treatments but they are expensive and sometimes painful for the person receiving treatment. Dermabrasion and dermarolling are also possible helpful treatments for scars from past acne. Botox, another pricey route to controlling the deeper scars of acne is very effective as a treatment and takes several courses of treatment. A treatment approach that looks worse before it gets better is receiving a chemical peel. This approach essentially a multi layer system of taking off layers of skin over a period of 4 visits which, hopefully, improve the appearance of the skin at the end. Speaking with a dermatologist is likely the best route to determining what the best option is for each person.

Treating the Emotional Pain of Acne

The last few paragraphs may have led some readers to believe that feeling suicidal because of acne can be easily fixed by simple medical or home treatment. The real issue with acne and the deep emotional pain caused from having suffered the teasing and personal image issues caused from dealing with acne is in part due to the fact so many believe it can be easily treated and “is not really a big deal”. The fact that for some acne is an inconvenience that may be joked about after the fact as “just part of growing up” does not in any way help those that have more severe or long term physical issues. This stems from people who don’t understand the lasting impact on those acne has affected throughout their lives.

It is hard to deal with emotional scarring if the physical scars are still there every time a person looks in the mirror. Even if one treats the physical scars, the emotional scars still must be dealt with. The biggest psychological issue is the self-perception of being ugly or disgusting based on the way they were treated by others in adolescence while developing their own self-esteem and identity.

Negative comments resound far louder in most people than the positive and, of course, no comment makes a no impression. This means that even though the vast majority of people are not disgusted or bothered at all by another person’s acne and that during a poll, (these people cite they only feel sympathy) the individual is far more affected by the very small minority that make the rude and painful comments. If 100 people do not mention the acne at all because they are not “turned off” or “bothered” by seeing a persons skin, and 1 person says “pepperoni face” or some other insult, the individual feels like the other 99 also thought that. Further, they see themselves and find it “ugly” so decide for themselves they are ugly. This is because we all are far more critical of ourselves than anyone else. How often are we judging others about their physical attributes in this way? Not terribly often yet we believe others are doing it to us.

The treatment for long term emotional pain and mental health issues of self-hate and dysphoria is best addressed through counseling with a professional therapist. If that is not possible because of cost or due to other reasons then there are self-help and self-awareness books and online programs that may help. The self-treatment however is very difficult when the actual issue is that a person dislikes or has a low opinion of themselves. If you had a low opinion of a doctor or therapist, you would not likely listen to what they have to say. If that applies to yourself than trying to convince yourself is equally difficult.

Trying to keep perspective and understanding that jokes on sitcoms are not reflective of world opinion, and the incidents of people that actually were rude about you appearance compared to the hundreds and thousands more people you met that were not is hard, but can be done. Ignoring the negative is easy advice to give and near impossible to follow. What would the advice be if the roles were reversed?

It may however be possible to realize with careful self-analysis that the emotional pain you are feeling about the acne whether it is present or in the past – the pain is being caused by yourself and how you feel about things far more than what others may have said or thought. We cannot make people say something different or think something different but we can influence our own thoughts to try to decide that you are not going to be cruel to yourself just because somebody else has been. Do not let the shallowness and cruelty of a small few become your own shallowness or cruelty towards yourself. Try to get some support or help through friends, family, or peer support instead of isolating. The acne does not kill people, it is their own thoughts and those are cruel thoughts they are having about themselves if they want to kill over the acne, even if it is themselves.

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