How to deal with mental stress triggered by hair fall

Representational image for hair loss. Photo: BLACKDAY / Shutterstock

New Delhi: Studies show that significant hair loss can lead to low self-esteem and a variety of other mental health difficulties ranging from stress and worry to suicidal ideation in extreme situations.

"I was someone who was always complimented for my bouncy hair. But, now, things have changed. Nobody appreciates them because of the constant hair fall I have been facing," shares a public relation specialist adding that this has become one of the reasons for her mental stress now.

And there are several stories where we found how hair fall was related to the mental health of a person.

"Ok so apparently in the last two years since I have been working, my hair density has fallen rapidly. Earlier the patch covered about 35-40 per cent of the crown area now it covers almost 90 per cent. So to be blunt now, I have the hairs of a late 60s guy while I am still in my early 20s," shares a guy working at an IT firm.

While it is believed that stress causes hair fall, some examples and studies show that hair fall causes stress too.

Hair loss is connected with a plethora of mental complications since it is a phenomenon that can affect a person's self and identity. Hair loss often causes chronic psycho-emotional and psycho-social stress. This is often found when combined with other complications such as depression, anxiety, personality disorder, among others.

Through a study conducted by Dr Debraj Shome, Director of The Esthetic Clinics, named, 'Iceberg phenomenon of alopecia associated public health ramifications on the quality of life among adults in India', it was found that men and women who have alopecia or hair loss can potentially have a psychological impact in the form of stress, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, and social phobia. In a sample size of around 800 patients who were all above 18 years of age, 442 were male and 358 were female.

It was noticed based on the data that between the ages of 18-30 years, 27 per cent of females and 30 per cent of males reported hair fall problems that impacted their social life.

"Hair loss has the potential to turn every day of their life into a "bad hair day". Several studies have established an association between dermatological disorders affecting patients' mental health, thereby increasing the prevalence of psychiatric disorders among them," says Dr Shome.

Is hair loss affecting your sexual health?

Not only mental health, but experts believe that hair loss is also related to the sexual health of a person.

According to the study, alopecia interferes with the sex life of 72 percent of women as compared with 63 per cent of men. For 73 per cent of women as compared with 61 per cent of men, alopecia posed a problem for the people they love. Alopecia, however, took a toll on the professional life of both men as well as women, it noted.

Anupama Menon, the nutritionist at The Right Living, says, "Alopecia areata causes loss in confidence & self-esteem, heightened self-consciousness, and poor sense of body image. The affected person ends up feeling a sense of loss or having lost out on something, men relate to "feeling anxious" while women are reported to "feeling embarrassed". All of this affects the sex life of the individual as he/she may feel less desirable or attractive."

Dr Harsiddhi Rathod, Shalby Multispeciality Hospitals Ahmedabad, says, "Dihydrotestosterone (DHT), a type of androgen hormone, can weaken hair follicles in males by binding to certain receptors on their scalp. This causes hair loss because the anagen phase of hair growth is shortened."

Common in men, women and children!

As per the study conducted by Dr Shome, though often mistaken to be primarily a male disease, women are equally affected by it with devastating consequences in their day to day life.

The American Hair Loss Association has even recognized it as a serious life-altering condition that can no longer be ignored by the medical community and society, especially in women. Balding or thinning hair can be more traumatic for women in a society and culture where a bald man may be socially acceptable but a bald woman is not with her hair being symbolic of her femininity.

In a study by Hunt and McHale, 19-40 per cent of women had marital problems and 63 per cent had career-related problems as a consequence of alopecia.

Studies evaluating the psychological features of men and women with androgenic alopecia found their personalities to be elusive. It was also noted that as a consequence of hair loss, men reportedly became more anxious or aggressive while more women suffered from depression due to hair loss affecting their physical appearance.

Several studies have emphasised the psychological impact of alopecia, especially among women since they tend to be more aesthetic oriented.

For centuries, hair has been perceived as the crown of glory symbolising youth. Nearly every culture and society across the globe associate luscious healthy-looking hair with beauty and good health.

Though a physical phenomenon in itself, alopecia or hair loss can potentially have a psychological impact in the form of stress, anxiety, depression, loss of confidence, low esteem, suicidal ideation, and social phobia.

According to Dr Preeti Singh, Sr. Consultant of Clinical Psychology, Chief medical officer, at Lissun, an online therapy platform, children experience Alopecia Arata too.

"It can have a fairly early onset, they suffer a lot of ill-treatment by other children, bullying can manifest aggressive behaviour, at times delinquent behaviour, poor self-esteem, withdrawal, social anxiety, among other symptoms."

Are you having hair loss? What's the solution?

Alopecia is a known condition. Experts believe that if it is treated right and on time, there is a strong chance that it can be reversed. It just needs a holistic wellness plan based on the correct diagnosis in many cases to heal and resurrect.

Taking good care of your hair at home is important, but it is also equally important to get the problem checked by professionals.

Dr Shome notes that in several countries, including India, getting hair loss treatment or seeking a cure for alopecia is still considered an 'elective procedure', with a considerable surcharge (such as Goods and Services tax) levied by the government on such treatments/procedures.

"Governments across the globe should have a compassionate and empathetic stance towards this construct; and the first step towards this would be classifying those with hair loss as patients and not as consumers, which would in turn organically annihilate the levying of these taxes on non-surgical and surgical alopecia related treatments," he adds.

"It is the need of the hour to recognise the gravity of this issue of alopecia grappling a large population across the globe to stimulate necessary private, public, and government initiatives towards awareness about its psycho-social impact and mental wellness."

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