“When I lost my hair, I lost a massive part of my personality.” Those are the words of Heather Fisher who won the Women’s Rugby World Cup with England in 2014. A few years before that, she started losing her hair and was diagnosed with alopecia. She has spoken candidly about how the experience affected her. Alopecia may be an extreme form of hair loss, but even less severe cases can have a similar effect. When a strong and confident elite athlete can admit that it left her feeling “too scared to show how I really feel”, it shows the psychological impact hair loss can have.
This article will look at why hair loss stops being an aesthetic issue and becomes one that affects our mental well-being. Keep scrolling to find out more!
Types of Alopecia
There are different forms of alopecia. Androgenetic alopecia, also known as male or female pattern baldness, is the most common type. Alopecia areata has different sub-groups. One of those, alopecia totalis, causes total baldness as opposed to small, isolated patches of hair loss, while alopecia universalis is the name given to hair loss which affects the whole body.
Alopecia areata is an autoimmune disease. That happens when the body’s immune system starts attacking healthy cells. Scientists believe there’s a genetic reason for this, but the condition is not yet fully understood.
Impact on Mental Health
Studies have confirmed that alopecia areata can have a significant impact on mental health. One study, conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School, found that individuals with the condition had a significantly higher risk of developing anxiety and depression. The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, also found that the risk of developing mental health issues rose in line with the severity of the alopecia areata case.
Similarly, a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology found that individuals with alopecia areata had a higher risk of depression and anxiety than those without the condition. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, found that the psychological impact of hair loss was significant, with participants reporting feelings of low self-esteem and negative body image.
Why the Link?
So, why does hair loss have such a profound impact on mental health? There are several reasons. First, the condition can be incredibly isolating. People with alopecia are made to feel different by those around them. Heather Fisher has made this point, but other alopecia sufferers have said the same thing. Katie Hale was diagnosed with alopecia areata in 2015 and ended up moving cities because, as she put it, “You do get treated quite differently.”
Being on the receiving end of this kind of ‘othering’ can lead to social withdrawal and a lack of support, thus exacerbating feelings of depression and anxiety.
In addition, hair loss can have a significant impact on self-esteem and body image. Hair is a significant part of a person’s appearance and losing it can make one feel unattractive or less desirable. This can be particularly true for women, who may feel like their femininity is undermined by their hair loss.
While hair loss generally is treatable in a way unimaginable a decade or so ago, alopecia areata remains an area in which there has been little progress on this front. There are some medications and treatments available for patchy alopecia, but they don’t work for everyone.
The absence of light at the end of the tunnel can give rise to feelings of hopelessness and despair which can further exacerbate anxiety and depression.
What can be done to help people with alopecia manage their mental health? One important step is to raise awareness of the condition and its impact on mental health. By talking openly about alopecia and its effects, we can help reduce the stigma associated with it and provide much-needed support to those who are struggling.
In addition, individuals with alopecia can benefit from seeking the help of others. Therapy, counselling, and support groups can all be effective ways of managing the emotional impact of hair loss and building resilience. They can help people see that they don’t have to be defined by alopecia.
While alopecia totalis affects a relatively few people, many of us will be affected by hair loss at some point in our life. The only good news is that there are today many effective treatments that can stop, reverse or manage the condition. Hair loss is treated most effectively when it’s caught at an early stage, so if you have concerns, speak to a hair specialist at the first opportunity.
Vinci Hair Clinic can help with that. We’re one of the world’s largest hair restoration outfits, with a network of clinics around the globe. New clients are entitled to a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our hair experts, either in person or by using photographs over the phone. Contact us today and book your appointment!