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Kingston lights city hall purple for Vitiligo awareness

Kingston City Hall was lit up purple on Tuesday evening in recognition of World Vitiligo Day.

June 25 marks World Vitiligo Day, as part of Vitiligo Awareness Month, and this year a number of landmarks in Canada participated in the #Lit4Vit campaign, lighting up purple in support of those living with the skin condition.

In addition to City Hall, buildings like the CN Tower were lit up purple, and landmarks in nearly every province in the country participated.

The initiative is fairly new in general, and is brand new to Canada this year, having been spearheaded by Vitiligo Voices Canada – the organization that also hosts the first and only nationwide support group for people with the condition.

Shahnawaz Towheed, a Kingston native and co-founder of Vitiligo Voices Canada, said the initiative has been happening for a few years in the USA and Vitiligo Voices Canada thought it would be a good way to spread awareness about the condition in Canada.

He, as someone who has lived with vitiligo throughout his life, says the condition can be really impactful for those who have it.

“It’s a skin condition that can cause lots of significant psychosocial challenges for people and can affect people’s mental health a lot,” Towheed said.

“That whole transition in particular is associated with a lot of mental health challenges.”

Vitiligo is a chronic, permanent autoimmune disorder that causes patches of skin to lose pigment or colour – with depigmentation normally starting well before the age of 20.

Typically it’s a condition that is more noticeable in people of colour, who see the melanin in patches of their skin fade, leaving a paler colour.

For Towheed, now a medical student at McMaster University, the co-founder says through both his personal experience with the condition and his experience as a medical student he’s seen the detrimental impact that onset of the condition can have on mental health.

He says it’s not simply just the colour of your skin changing, but in many ways it can feel like losing a grip on your identity.

“I experienced social anxiety, I experienced confusion even about my own identity, not feeling like I was part of my ethnic or cultural group anymore,” Towheed said.

“There’s a lot of stigma as well and even name-calling that I experienced throughout school.”

Towheed adds that his research at McMaster, involving 67 people with vitiligo, further showcases how the condition often has a negative impact on mental health.

He says people often feel alone with the condition, as it’s estimated that vitiligo only impacts somewhere between 0.5-2% of people.

“My research overall showed that people, especially people with darker skin tones at the beginning, tend to have very high rates of depression and anxiety that’s significantly higher than the general population,” Towheed said.

“I think one of the biggest things you feel with the condition is that there’s a sense of not belonging and a sense of isolation, and that’s because the condition only affects 1% of people worldwide.”

Tuesday’s show of support in a number of cities is just a start for Vitiligo Voices Canada raising awareness about the condition, as Towheed says there are people out there who are feeling isolated by the condition and could benefit from the work the organization aims to do.

Going forward, Towheed said that the group looks to promote support groups where people living with vitiligo can have a safe space to listen, share, and engage with one another.

He says it’s important to continue any momentum gained from World Vitiligo Day and Vitiligo Awareness Month, and the group will continue to share stories of people living with vitiligo to reach both people with the condition and those who may not have knowledge of it.

On Tuesday, Towheed said seeing so many places across Canada lit up to support the cause was overwhelming, and it will inspire even more.

“It was a little bit surreal… I think there was a sense of relief and a sense of gratitude for the fact that the message is starting to get out there,” Towheed said.

“We don’t think by itself it’s enough to just light landmarks up… I think it’s the start of something bigger.”

Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Owen Fullerton, Local Journalism Initiative Reporterhttp://ygknews.ca
Born and raised in Whitby, Ontario, Owen has been living in Kingston for about three years after starting the band Willy Nilly. Prior to that he worked at CKLB radio in Yellowknife and completed studies in Niagara College's Broadcasting program.

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