Chronic Itch: A Heavy Psychological Burden?>
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Chronic Itch: A Heavy Psychological Burden

by Health After 50  

People whose itchy skin is so bothersome that it sends them to a specialist for relief may be at increasedrisk of depression, thoughts of suicide, and chronic stress, according to a recent study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

Building on past evidence, European researchers reported that people who sought treatment for chronically itchy skin—which is often caused by skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, or hives—were more likely to have mental health difficulties than people who didn’t have itch complaints. Results showed that 14.1 percent of patients with itch had depression versus 3.2 percent without itch, and 15.7 percent of patients with itch had suicidal thoughts versus 8.6 percent of patients without itch.

The study also found that, in general, participants with itch were more likely to report stressful life events than those without itch, and itch was also associated with economic problems.

The researchers acknowledge that the cause (itching) and effect (poor mental health) could be reversed in some study subjects. Past evidence has indicated that mental health suffering can cause or exacerbate chronic itching.

What you should do

If you’re bothered by a skin condition, don’t put off visiting a dermatologist who can help you get your itch under control before it affects your mental health. If you’re feeling depressed, seek a mental health professional’s help. If you’re feeling suicidal, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This article first appeared in the August 2020 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.

Also see Got an Itch? Read This.