Hair loss, or alopecia, is a common genetic condition that affects both men and women of all ages. Although the most common geographic location for hair loss is in the Czech Republic with 42.79 of all men going bald, the UK still ranks fifth with 39.23 of all men losing their hair.
But what is the relationship between a person’s psychological makeup and their hair? Does hair loss cause psychological disorders or is the reverse true and psychological disorders are responsible for hair loss?
A healthy head of hair is often perceived as a complement to power, good looks, charm and beauty, and therefore hair loss is associated with the opposite, often causing psychological problems and significant social impact as well as depression, anxiety, anger, fatigue, low self-esteem and embarrassment. The famous tennis player Andre Agassi described losing his hair as like losing ‘little pieces of my identity.’ In an age where young people are more conscious of their appearance than ever before, its little wonder that hair loss clinics are prospering as desperate young men seek answers to their hair loss trauma.
Sadly, there is little in the way of a magic pill to help people going through the mental anguish of losing their hair. With hair loss still being regarded as a cosmetic problem, rather than a disease, there are few academic funding bodies who are willing to spend substantial sums of money on hair research.
While in the majority of cases hair loss can be attributed to genetics, there are a number of other factors that can contribute to hair loss.
As depression becomes an increasingly common problem around the globe, its impact on hair loss is becoming more prevalent. Patients suffering from depression can often find their hair becoming dry, brittle and easily breakable. The phycological states of depression, including low mood, low self-esteem and low energy, can have an impact on the hair growth phase, leading to hair loss. Hair loss, in turn, can give people suffering from depression a ‘focus’ for their negative feelings. It is also possible for some anti-depression medication to have an impact on hair loss.
While stress-related hair loss is not permanent, stress does play a big part in hair loss, and reversing the effects rely heavily on the management and control of the stress. Stress can put hair follicles into a resting phase and hair follicles can lie dormant for around three months before eventually shedding. This will continue until the stress levels are reduced or stopped, at which point the hair will continue to grow as normal.
Dihydrotestosterone is a hormone that the body makes from the male hormone testosterone. Many men have a genetic oversensitivity to in hair follicles to this hormone which causes hair loss. Unfortunately, experiencing this hair loss can in turn, increase stress levels which can increase the hair loss. In situations like these, patients are often left turning to solutions like hair transplant procedures in order to correct the hair loss and help renew their self-esteem.
Some of the stigma surrounding hair loss can be attributed to unconscious bias. Hair and nail growth are shut down when the body is unwell in order to preserve energy for other bodily functions meaning that subconsciously we link thick luscious hair to health and virility. This, in turn, means that hair loss can have an impact on mental health just as much as mental health can have an impact on hair loss.
Going bald has been found to lead to exaggerated feelings of ugliness and body dysmorphic disorder, where sufferers experience acute anxiety about their looks. Certainly, the huge emotional burden of going bald can lead to impaired quality of life.
Thankfully, there are a number of options available for people who find themselves losing confidence along with their hair. Improving diet and supplementing can have a positive impact as well as reducing stress and increasing exercise. For people suffering the effects of depression and stress it is worth consulting with a counsellor or even considering Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help develop psychological coping mechanisms and improve self-esteem.
There is little doubt that hair is an important social communication instrument and with the huge market of people looking for solutions to their own hair loss, new and advanced procedures are continually being researched although a lack of funding is prohibiting any serious breakthroughs in hair research. More funding from government and industry will be needed in order to realize the potential treatments and alleviate the trauma for thousands of alopecia sufferers from around the globe.