Mental Health Awareness Week: What it's like living with a skin-picking disorder as a student
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Image credit: Elisa Riva, via PixabayWhat is Compulsive Skin Picking? A quick search of the internet shows that there isn’t much information out there about skin picking disorder. It’s known by multiple names: dermatillomania, excoriation disorder, or compulsive skin picking - and there is much more to it than picking a few spots here and there. The disorder is a Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviour and comes under the umbrella of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Aside from its impact on mental health, sufferers of compulsive skin picking are left with physical symptoms, too - open sores that often become irritated and inflamed to the point of bleeding, infection and scarring over time. How does the disorder effect student life? I suffer from skin picking disorder myself - I have specific areas that I focus on, such as my chest, face, shoulders and back. I even use a specific mirror and pick more at certain times of day, such as just before bed, many days I spend over four hours picking. I’ve struggled with it for around 13 years but have only recently begun to understand what it is and why I do it. It sometimes gets so bad that I’ve used pins or scissors to try to get rid of what I see as an ‘abnormality’ in my skin, despite other people not even noticing.
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Another student, who wishes to remain anonymous, also told us about their experience with skin-picking:
“I didn’t realise I was doing it for years. It started out with just picking acne, or scratching, but has gotten progressively worse. My worst areas are the skin around my nails, my face and my legs. I spend hours looking for ingrown hairs on my legs with tweezers. My skin is quite sensitive, but I want to cover up the scars on my face during lectures, so it just becomes a cycle of bad skin, pick the skin, cover the skin, continue to have bad skin. I feel so bad about myself and don’t tell people because I’m scared they won’t understand”.How can you manage the disorder? Over time, I've developed a few strategies which the NHS website also recommends if you think you’re struggling with this:
- Keep your hands busy – try squeezing a soft ball or putting on gloves. But this could involve anything such as colouring in, playing video games, (which is my favourite distraction), or whatever you enjoy.
- Identifying when and where you most commonly pick your skin and try to avoid these triggers. I often pick with a handheld mirror so I try to avoid these as much as possible.
- Try to resist for longer and longer each time you feel the urge to pick. This one is definitely easier said than done, but you may be surprised with how long you’re able to do this for.
- Care for your skin when you get the urge to pick, such as applying moisturiser. I also include trimming nails in this one to try to avoid infection or more serious injuries.
- Tell other people so they can recognise when you’re picking. I find this one very difficult, I often feel ashamed if other people notice so generally pick when I’m on my own. But telling someone who you can trust will likely help and make you feel better.