In May of 2013, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) was revised to update its current literature on mental health conditions to include ones that were previously unrecognized and categorize them according to their similar characteristics. The addition of Excoriation Disorder, aka “Dermatillomania,” brought validation to thousands of sufferers by giving acknowledgment from the medical field that this is a mental health condition — not just a “bad habit.”
Excoriation Disorder is characterized by the repetitive picking of one’s own skin. Individuals who struggle with this disorder touch, rub, scratch, pick at, or dig into their skin in an attempt to improve perceived imperfections, often resulting in tissue damage, discoloration, or scarring. Skin picking disorder is one of a group of behaviors known as body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), self-grooming behaviors in which individuals pull, pick, scrape, or bite their own hair, skin, or nails, resulting in damage to the body.
Research shows that 2-5% of the population has a BFRB with approximately 75% of affected individuals identifying as female.
I Am One Of Those Females
By the time I reached my teenage years, my legs were filled with open sores. My face had already been a problem since I was a child and I went through periods where I picked at my upper back and chest. For years I suffered alone, barely telling a person because I believed that if everyone found out about this disorder, I’d be deemed a “freak.”
The effects of this disorder caused me to refrain from dating and believe that I was unworthy because I couldn’t control the mess on my body let alone the mess in my head causing it. It made me housebound for 2.5 years because I was too embarrassed to be seen in public most days, causing me to also drop out of university. While suicidal, I had a mental health nurse tell me that all I had to do to stop picking is to “grow up.” There was no help where I lived and Internet awareness pre-2010 was scarce. I never wanted anyone to experience the stigma and shame I did, which led me to releasing my personal memoir, FOREVER MARKED: A Dermatillomania Diary. My hope was for it to encourage others to come forward with their stories so that we could unite and create change for the next generation with BFRBs.
When it came to mental health in grade school I learned about bare-bone facts surrounding depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. I never heard of Dermatillomania, let alone a Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior. Teachers should learn the signs of BFRBs and pass it on to their students as a part of their education and provide fidget/fiddle/sensory toys in the classroom.
Like many others with Dermatillomania, I’ve been told that I will live with this forever. With what I’ve learned after my therapy with Karen Pickett after appearing on “The Doctors,” I now know that this disorder is manageable with the right tools. With the DSM 5 out, mental health professionals should be required to update their skills to effectively serve the BFRB community. Learn how to become trained here.
I started my journey alone. By reaching out and becoming active in online forums I’ve met incredible people and organizations dedicated to the same efforts I am. The first time I met another person with Dermatillomania was across the continent while filming Scars of Shame; a few years later I was able to meet others in my area as more awareness and support groups were created in North America. This support has not only been imperative in my journey to raise awareness, but now sustains my own recovery.