Vitiligo and Stigma

Vitiligo, the skin condition in which the skin loses pigment or melanocytes cells that give color to skin is not life threatening or painful. Despite being harmless and non- contagious, it becomes an emotional burden to people that caught this condition especially in countries where people have darken skin tone. To add to their miseries, these people are stigmatized as ignorant and illiterate people equate their skin condition with other diseases such as leprosy. If some young woman catches this skin condition in societies with darker skin tone, she herself becomes a stigma for her family. Even people have to migrate to some other places to avoid the stigmatization of the sufferer. Clinically, Vitiligo is an acquired skin disorder in which the sufferer gets white macules or spots. If seen under a microscope, the people with Vitiligo show a total absence of pigment producing cells.
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No scientific evidence is present about the known causes of Vitiligo and same is the case with its treatment. There is no commonly used treatment to treat Vitiligo. Though Vitiligo does not pose any health complications to sufferers, it casts profound psychological burden on sufferers. This psychological burden is mainly due to stigma attached with the disease where this condition is considered as deviance.

Several researches have been conducted in the field of Vitiligo and stigma attached to it. The condition affects people to a different degree that suggests that psychological mechanisms that include sufferer’s way of processing information about him or herself, her or his social situation play a vital role in sufferer’s adjustment in the society. These reports also suggest that sufferer’s feel stigmatized that adds to their distress and feelings of disability.

Reportedly, Vitiligo affects at least 1% to 2% of the total world population. The skin disease is reported from across the globe irrespective of sex, race, and age. Vitiligo is more prominent in darker skin people because of contrast between the affected and unaffected skin. Due to this contrast it is presumed that Vitiligo prevails at a higher degree in countries where population is dark skinned. In such countries especially countries in South East Asia, Vitiligo is seen as a marked social stigma and even today people with Vitiligo do not get equal opportunities of social advancement and marriage.

As Vitiligo is a physical disorder, the white marks are considered dirty marks and thus a social deviance. Illiteracy and inherited attitudes just add to the social stigmatization as people think that the sufferers are responsible for these white patches. Several sufferers try to conceal their Vitiligo to avoid social stigmatization but this causes anxiety and its discloser brings pity to the sufferer from the society.

In around 50% cases of Vitiligo, people get it between the ages of 10 to 30, whereas few cases are reported people being born with Vitiligo. Vitiligo rarely affects the people of old age. It is suggested that families having history of thyroid disease, and diabetes may have a greater risk of developing Vitiligo into their coming generations.

People should remember that Vitiligo is a highly variable, unpredictable chronic disease process. There is however some degree of stability or low progression in the condition. It should also be remembered that by getting treatment for Vitiligo associated diseases such as thyroid diseases does not cure Vitiligo.

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