Alisha Bridges is a media and marketing professional and a patient advocate for people with psoriasis. Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes inflammation in the skin and other tissues and organs.

Alisha developed psoriasis when she was 7 years old, after recovering from chickenpox. “My grandmother noticed that the scars that kids typically got after having chickenpox seemed to be morphing into something else, so she ended up taking me to a doctor,” Alisha told Healthline.

By the time Alisha received a diagnosis of plaque psoriasis, the symptoms were covering about 90% of her body.

Alisha spoke with Healthline to share some of the insights she’s gained since her diagnosis.

“There are many challenges when it comes to managing psoriasis,” Alisha told Healthline.

These include the physical symptoms of psoriasis, which can be uncomfortable.

“It’s painful. It’s itchy. It makes your skin crack,” says Alisha. “It can even impact your joints.” In fact, a large 2018 research review that included 266 studies and 976,408 people found that psoriatic arthritis can affect 25% people with psoriasis.

Symptoms of psoriasis may be visible to other people, which contributes to psoriasis-related stigma that can negatively affect a person’s mental health and interactions with others.

“It impacted my self-esteem, my self-worth, and how I viewed myself,” says Alisha. “It impacted the way I interacted with the world. I avoided things like sports or activities that required me to show my skin. And I will also say that it can impact your relationships.”

Psoriasis-related stigma isn’t the only factor that can negatively affect mental health in people with this condition. A 2021 research review suggested that chronic inflammation in psoriasis may also raise the risk of developing mental health conditions.

“If your body is inflamed, that releases stress hormones, which increase depression and anxiety,” says Alisha. “So yes, you’re experiencing negative feelings [of stigma] because of the world around you, but there is also the component of these hormones.”

Alisha has sometimes found it difficult to communicate the challenges she faces to her family.

Her grandparents raised her. They had never encountered psoriasis before. They also weren’t comfortable using the internet, which limited their access to psoriasis education and support resources. “It was a learning curve for them, too,” she says.

Alisha has also experienced racial bias from healthcare professionals. “Finding the right treatment was challenging, especially being a Black kid,” she says.

A 2022 review reported that medical training programs often focus on examples of skin conditions in white people, which may pose barriers to diagnosis for people of color. The review also reported that people of color may face barriers to accessing culturally competent care and effective psoriasis treatment.

Connecting with other people who live with psoriasis has significantly improved her quality of life, Alisha says.

She started participating in online support groups for people with psoriasis in her 20s.

After she wrote a blog post about her experiences, the National Psoriasis Foundation invited her to attend her first volunteer conference.

“That was the first time I had really encountered other people with psoriasis, and it was life changing for me — not only for my confidence but for the way I advocated for myself,” she says.

“The National Psoriasis Foundation gave me hope to know that I was not alone and that they were doing stuff within their organization to help improve the lives of those living with psoriasis,” she adds.

Alisha’s childhood treatment plan for psoriasis included only topical treatments and phototherapy, which did little to help manage her severe symptoms.

Now, she’s receiving more effective treatment with systemic medication, which alters the underlying immune response that causes psoriasis symptoms.

“I ended up meeting my current dermatologist at a National Psoriasis Foundation event, and she does a lot of research, so she knows how these drugs work,” says Alisha. “She was the first person to prescribe me something that actually changed my skin.”

Receiving effective treatment has improved not only Alisha’s physical health but also her mental health.

“Once you start to control the inflammation in your body with an effective treatment, then the stress hormones [also] start to decrease. So, when I got the right treatment, my depression started to decrease, my anxiety started to decrease,” she says.

Before Alisha found an effective psoriasis treatment, she thought that clearing her symptoms would cure her self-esteem challenges. But she discovered it wasn’t that simple.

“I always thought if I could just get clear skin, I would love myself,” she says. “Then, I did find a treatment that cleared my symptoms, but I was still struggling with self-esteem and self-worth. It’s like when my skin cleared, my attention went to other things that I didn’t like about myself.”

Alisha has found that practicing self-compassion and self-love is essential.

“I would encourage anyone to find love for themselves, regardless of whether they have a flare of psoriasis or not. You have to learn how to be compassionate and give yourself grace,” she says.

“If I could talk to my younger self, I would tell her that there is hope in the future, that she will find an effective treatment, and that she is going to meet some beautiful, supportive people that will inspire her to live her best life, regardless of psoriasis being present or not.”

Alisha M. Bridges is a media and marketing professional, author of the book Dig Deeper: A 21-Week Guide to Self-Discovery Through Plants, and an award-winning patient advocate for people with psoriasis. She has lived with plaque psoriasis for more than three decades.