People rarely talk about emotional side of scoliosis. Most conversations focus on the medical aspects: how fast the curves progress and which treatments are effective. Yet for people with scoliosis, emotional effects are as real as the physical ones—sometimes more so.
“The scars on my body are nothing compared to the emotional scars that scoliosis has left on me,” says patient Leah L.
The emotional effects of scoliosis can include:
Connecting with other kids can be hard when your spinal curves set you apart. Uneven posture or even wearing a brace often makes kids with scoliosis feel ostracized from their peers.
As many as 56 percent of scoliosis patients struggle with relationships. More than a third become shy or isolated, while one in five defensively avoid others. This can lead to “paranoia because you feel like you are being judged for being less than sociable,” says Denise C.
Pain and discomfort can cause patients to avoid social situations such as games or concerts with hard chairs; outdoor activities; and trips that involve long car, plane or train rides. As a result, up to 43 percent of teens with scoliosis spend less time dating and enjoying recreational activities than their peers.
“Staying indoors alone so much truly does begin to impact your social skills, creating an endless, vicious cycle,” she says.
Having an abnormal body at a time when fitting in is paramount can wreak havoc on a child’s self-confidence. Many kids—especially girls—develop body image issues.
They may secretly feel much like Robin K., a scoliosis patient who struggles with “the shame and frustration of a physical deformity that makes me feel more and more unattractive. Inside and out, I’m uncomfortable with myself,” she says.
Scoliosis patients are 45 percent more likely than their peers to feel ashamed of their bodies. Six in 10 are dissatisfied with the way they look. Some report hating the way their body looks in the mirror or obsessively thinking about their curves. Many are even teased for their differences.
“I was always self conscious about my shoulder hump under my clothes,” says Sophie N. “A boy at school sometimes made fun of me about my back, which made me feel horrible.”
Many kids with scoliosis outgrow their struggles and live happy lives. But some develop serious emotional problems.
More than a third of scoliosis patients express feelings of emptiness. Girls with the condition are 55 percent more likely than their peers to think about suicide, while boys are 10 times more likely to consider suicide.
“It weighs on your emotions,” says Donna S. “It put me into a deep depression, hiding from the world in my bedroom, just trying to deal with all the pain.
Emotional disturbances often lead to substance use, and teens with scoliosis are no exception. Boys with scoliosis consume 94 percent more alcohol than their peers, and girls with scoliosis are three times more likely to drink than girls without.
Going back to school with scoliosis can be intimidating, but it’s important to let kids know they’re not alone. Opening up conversations about the emotional side of scoliosis can give them the opportunity to express how this lifelong condition affects them on the inside.