While facial disfigurement might not seem like a common condition, research conducted by Changing Faces reports that in just the UK alone, about 569,000 children, young people, and adults have significant facial disfigurements. Facial disfigurement can be a condition from birth, such as Apert syndrome, cleft lip/palate, and craniosynostosis, or caused by events such as fires, accidents, and injuries. Besides potentially causing physical difficulties (trouble breathing/eating/drinking, vision impairment, etc.), these facial deformities can also cause numerous negative mental effects. In the AMA Journal of Ethics, reported psychological effects of having a facial disfigurement include negative self-perception, decreased confidence, and poor self-esteem. This can be heightened by the fact that people with facial deformities are usually poorly represented in the media, or depicted in an inhumane way. Moreover, feelings of social anxiety and a desire to avoid social situations can arise, especially as peers, or even family members, insult, tease, comment, ask invasive questions, or stare when seeing a facially disfigured person. Some people might even ignore or avoid someone with a disfigured face, acting as if their condition is “contagious.”
These negative reactions, which can begin as early as childhood if classmates or strangers start to comment about a child’s disfigurement, can result in social isolation and prevent the affected person from forming relationships and gaining a valuable support system well into adulthood. Besides low self-confidence and social isolation, children with facial deformities can suffer from stress, anxiety, and depression. This can be attributed to situations like frequent staring and insults when in public, rejection by parents or loved ones, and constant intervention and operations.
It’s important to note that these various negative mental health effects can be felt regardless of whether a facial disfigurement was caused by a condition at birth or an event after birth. With facially disfigured children being viewed as less attractive, less intelligent, and less trustworthy by some people in social situations, it’s clear that emotionally damaging and hurtful treatment can be experienced regardless of the facial disfigurement’s cause.
Plastic and reconstructive surgery is a common solution to aiding children with facial disfigurements, providing patients with treatment that can improve their quality of life both physically and mentally, especially if the patient’s condition hinders important functions such as breathing and eating and drinking. Still, these surgeries are complex and require “removal, reshaping and replacing parts of the skull,” with the use of tools such as wires or sutures (John Hopkins University). In addition, surgery is often not a one-time event, with people like speech pathologists and orthodontists needing to get involved. It is ultimately up to the parents or patient to decide whether surgery is worth the process. Again, however, surgery can help a patient, especially young ones, not be limited by their facial disfigurement.
Reconstructive surgery is not the only answer. With a strong support system, therapeutic care, and assistance from a community of children with similar experiences, children with facial disfigurement can live with confidence, health, and a strong mindset. However, these solutions are not always easily accessible to certain groups of children, especially those in areas with less resources, less quality medical care, and less community support. As a result, several organizations, including the Rosa Thay Nguyen Foundation, are making determined efforts to provide underprivileged and neglected communities with the healthcare and support they deserve.
Donating to or supporting organizations like these, as well as organizations focused around aiding people with facial disfigurements, can help with important issues ranging from stigma around facial deformities to both national and global healthcare inequity.
Remember that having a facial disfigurement does not make someone less worthy, less deserving, and less human. They are human beings with emotions and thoughts just like any other person, and should not be treated with disrespect and cruelty. Rather, they should be simply treated as a person, as well as with respect, empathy, and understanding.
Having a facial disfigurement can often result in significant mental distress and lead to long-term loneliness, anxiety, low confidence, and depression. Do not add to this distress by being unjustly narrow-minded and disrespectful when facing children with facial disfigurements.
Every child has worth, value, and potential regardless of how they look and where they come from.