Why Mindy Kaling Is Advocating for a Health Condition She Doesn’t Have

Mindy Kaling is no stranger to advocating for herself. Before she created hit shows like The Mindy Project, Never Have I Ever, and The Sex Lives of College Girls, Kaling played “a really small character on an amazing show,” she tells SheKnows’s Reshma Gopaldas — referencing, of course, her iconic role as Kelly Kapoor on The Office.

While Kaling is selling herself a bit short there — she also wrote more episodes of the show than any other writer — the point still stands. When The Office ended and Kaling prepared to branch off on her own, there were some understandable fears involved.

“To launch a show, there’s so many ways that it could go wrong and so many people telling me that it’s not going to work, because historically so few of them stay on the air,” she says. “So for me, that took a huge leap of faith.”

Of course, The Mindy Project ended up being just the first of Kaling’s string of hits, proving that advocating for herself was a risk worth taking. Now, she’s encouraging others to do the same when it comes to their health.

The stigma of psoriasis

Kaling has partnered with pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb to promote Sotyktu, an oral treatment for moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, in hopes that her platform and personal experience with self-advocating can help plaque psoriasis patients find a treatment that works. While Kaling herself doesn’t have plaque psoriasis, she says, “I had friends who were dealing with it, and they had been so private about it and not really confident in their skins.”

Kaling and legendary actor Ted Danson, who has dealt with plaque psoriasis since his 20s, are both part of the campaign. Kaling was excited to join “to encourage people to not feel lack of confidence when they go to speak to their doctors,” she explains, “and to encourage them to find out more about psoriasis and what they can do to fight it” via the medication’s website, So Have You Found It?

In fact, lack of confidence and the stigma around visible skin conditions like plaque psoriasis are a major issue, says Dr. James Libecco, a dermatologist specializing in psoriasis who’s also partnered with Sotyktu. “That emotional impact can be often quite severe for patients,” Libecco tells SheKnows. “Very quickly they learn to avoid certain activities. They learn to wear clothing that will cover the involved areas, maybe they wear their hair longer to cover the base of the skull… long sleeves even in the summer. I have a lot of patients that will say, ‘Absolutely not, I would never go to a pool.’”

What is plaque psoriasis?

Plaque psoriasis affects causes the skin to break out in plaques, or “red, scaly patches” that tend to itch and bleed, Libecco says. The plaques, which can also be raised and rough, appear “primarily on areas like the knees, elbows, back of the neck and scalp, around the belly button, and often at the top of the gluteal cleft,” Libecco adds, though they can be anywhere on the body.

Some plaques are in highly visible areas, meaning patients may face judgment and stigma — particularly from those who aren’t familiar with the non-infectious condition. “I’ve had to write notes for patients so that they can go to the pool,” Libecco says. “They’ve been kicked out by the lifeguards saying that they’re not allowed in the pool with their ‘infected’ skin… We know they can’t give it to anybody, but they’re ostracized from society to the point that they can’t do things like go to a pool.”

In fact, plaque psoriasis is an autoimmune disorder, caused by an overgrowth of skin cells. You can’t “catch” it from a patient, and most importantly, it’s treatable.

Treating plaque psoriasis

In the past, Libecco explains, plaque psoriasis treatments required frequent trips to a doctor’s office or topical steroid creams — not a great option for patients with moderate to severe plaque psoriasis, which affects five to 10 percent or more of the patient’s skin. Injectable medications are also available, along with oral medications like Sotyktu, which patients take just once a day.

Kaling and Libecco are also working to empower plaque psoriasis patients to speak up for themselves in the doctor’s office to explore their varied treatment options.

“So many times when I go to my doctor’s office, they sit there like, “Do you have any questions for me?’” Kaling says. “And I’m like, ‘Oh, my goodness, I know I do, but I can’t think of any right now and I didn’t do any my research, and it’s going to be another year until I see you again.’” 

Libecco recommended that plaque psoriasis patients look into treatment options ahead of time and jot down any questions they have for their doctor. “Just reading a label isn’t the same as sitting down and talking it through with a skilled provider,” he says.

For anyone struggling to manage plaque psoriasis, “you’re not alone,” Libecco adds. Approximately 7.5 million adults in the U.S. have psoriasis, per the American Academy of Dermatology, and there are treatment options available. “You’re not alone with your frustration,” Libecco says. “You’re not alone with feeling embarrassed by your [plaque psoriasis]… your happiness with your life shouldn’t be impacted by having [plaque psoriasis]. We want to get you back to living a life that you want to live.”

Before you go, learn about these stars who are speaking out about their autoimmune disorders:

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