Borders man says wearing a mask has stopped cruel comments and stares

  • Video report by Clare McNeill

A young man who lives with a 'visible difference' says that wearing a face mask has reduced the prejudices and cruel comments he experiences every day.

Atholl Mills, from the Scottish Borders, was born with a condition called cystic hydroma, which causes cysts to form where the lymph nodes are. It affects Atholl's left ear, jaw and neck.

During an operation to remove the cysts his facial nerve was severed, causing facial palsy - permanent paralysis on the left side of his face.

The 26-year-old says his visible difference often brought stares and cruel remarks. But ever since the coronavirus pandemic led to the widespread wearing of face coverings, he feels like he's treated like everybody else for the first time in his life.

Credit: Family photo

'It's been kind of a relief to be honest," he told ITV Border. "With having a visible difference it can be a bit daunting some days just going about your normal daily routine.

"There was one time I was serving someone and they came up to pay and asked me if it was an abscess and I said no it's not. It's actually a visible difference.

"And he said that if he looked like me he would have killed himself."

Atholl said the fear of other people's horrible comments stopped him from leaving his flat. He said: "Although 99 interactions can be great during the day, it's the one interaction that's negative and horrible that you think about later on at night.

"And I think people need to realise that, for people with a visible difference, sometimes it takes everything in you to just go about your normal daily routine.

"One comment can really set you back and it could tip somebody over the edge."

Atholl uses the social media site TikTok to tackle the stigma and shares his experiences to thousands of people. He's involved with the charity Changing Faces - which supports anyone with a scar, mark or condition which makes them look different.

They say though some people with visible differences have experienced respite during the pandemic, others may be regressing in confidence as we are staying home more and socialising less.

Credit: PA

Catherine Deakin, from Changing Faces said: "Theres lots of challenges during the pandemic that people with visible differences tell us about.

"They're missing support from friends and families, they're worried about going back out in public.

"What we want to say at Changing Faces is that we're here for anyone who is struggling during the coronavirus pandemic and we'd really encourage anyone who needs some help to check out our website."

Atholl hopes that the compassion we've learned to show to others throughout the pandemic is extended to those who may still need it when the masks comes off.