Male pattern baldness remains the dominant cause of hair loss, with two-thirds of all adult males affected by this at some point during their lives.
However, this isn’t the only cause of hair loss, but regardless of the trigger, this can cause immense psychological stress for an individual (particularly those who experience hair loss when they’re in their late teens or 20s).
But what exactly do we mean by hair loss, and how can balding negatively impact your mental health?
What Do We Mean by Hair Loss?
In broad terms, hair loss is a common and variable issue that affects up to 50% of both men and women during the course of their lives.
Hair loss can also occur anywhere on the body, although it’s overwhelmingly more likely to affect the scalp. Scalp baldness can also be accompanied by hair loss around the eyebrows and eyelashes, depending on the precise cause or triggering factor.
As we’ve already touched on, male pattern baldness remains the main cause of hair loss in the UK, with this genetic and irreversible condition known to progress through stages that impact the temples, crown and scalp respectively.
There are seven stages of male pattern baldness, the first of which sees barely noticeable thinning around your temples. The temple hair then begins to fall out, creating a visibly receding hairline that establishes an ‘M’ shape at the front of your scalp.
Your hairline then continues to recede to form ‘U’ and ‘V’ shapes, before significant hair loss starts at the back of the scalp. The hairline then recedes towards the crown, eventually creating a completely bald scalp with tufts of hair left remaining at the side of the head.
Hair loss can also be categorised into scarring (cicatricial) alopecia and non-scarring (non-cicatricial) alopecia, each of which has a number of different triggers.
Scarring alopecia is incredibly rare, and primarily caused by injury, infection and numerous inflammatory skin disorders. Conversely, non-scarring alopecia is typically triggered by a serious fungal skin infection or the condition alopecia areata, which is a known autoimmune disorder.
Can Mental Conditions Cause Hair Loss?
Hair loss associated with male pattern balding may also be categorised as being ‘diffuse’ in nature, with this largely genetic and often following a period of hair shedding.
However, telogen effluvium is also a type of diffuse hair loss, with this most likely stress-induced and triggered by a number of potential physical and emotional factors.
Regardless, this condition sees significant stress levels and a marked increase in the production of cortisol (the stress hormone), which pushes a huge volume of hair follicles into a resting phase.
Within a period of months or even weeks, affected hairs may start to fall out in clumps, even when carrying out simple tasks such as washing or combing your hair.
Specific mental disorders and psychiatric disturbances such as endogenous depression (which occurs without the presence of trauma or an external trigger) and acute anxiety may also trigger telogen effluvium, creating relatively sudden hair loss in the process.
The only good news here is that some instances of telogen effluvium may be reversible, particularly if the underlying cause of stress (should one exist) be identified and subsequently tackled.
What Psychological Effects Can Hair Loss Have?
While it’s well-known that acute stress or anxiety can cause hair loss, it’s all too easy to overlook the psychological effects of gradual balding or suddenly losing your hair.
Unlike male pattern baldness, telogen effluvium can occur overnight, while hair falls out in random clumps from the visible scalp (rather than initially affecting the temples and crown). Regardless, hair loss of any description can be stressful and impact the mind in several different ways.
In fact, people with hair loss have a dramatically increased prevalence of psychiatric disorders when compared to the general population, with anxiety disorders and social phobias particularly widespread.
But what are the exact psychological effects of hair loss in such instances? Here are a few to keep in mind:
#1. The Loss of Self Esteem: For those of you who draw a great deal confidence from your looks, balding of any type can have a direct impact on your self-esteem. This is especially true if you’re younger when you lose your hair or begin to showcase the symptoms of male pattern baldness, with approximately 25% of men who have the latter condition seeing their hair thin before the age of 21. This can cause you disguise your baldness or avoid social situation entirely, further damaging your confidence and self-belief.
#2. General Anxiety: If you fail to process the shock of losing your hair, you may well begin to feel symptoms of generalised anxiety. One of the key risk factors here is prolonged exposure to stressful situations, such as hair loss or the onset of male pattern baldness. This can also cause an array of unpleasant symptoms, including gastrointestinal issues, headaches and increased fatigue.
#3. Depression: As we’ve already touched on, endogenous depression that doesn’t have known or obvious trigger is a key driver of telogen effluvium and temporary hair loss. However, losing your hair can also cause or exacerbate feelings of depression, as you struggle to adapt to your new look and feel as though you’re failing to conform to the perceived physical norms of society. This condition can worsen without treatment, especially if you continually struggle to come to terms with hair loss.
#4. Social Phobias or Social Avoidance: Previously, we’ve spoken about how hair loss can lower your self-esteem. This, in turn, may mean that you lose the confidence to enter into social situations or engage with your peers, creating a social phobia that can become debilitating over time. In fact, general social avoidance can make it increasingly difficult to leave the house if left unchecked, impacting on your general wellbeing and ability to work or earn money.
How Do I Deal with the Psychological Effects of Balding?
These psychological effects can be harmful and have a significant impact on our daily lives, so it’s important that you take a proactive approach to dealing with them.
Fortunately, there are a few ways in which you can tackle the psychological effects of balding. These include:
1. Attend Support Groups
One of the first steps should be to attend support groups. There are numerous such groups located throughout the UK, many of which are focused on sufferers of scarring alopecia or younger people who experience hair loss.
There’s also a myriad of support and advice lines, for people who are suffering from male pattern baldness or hair loss associated with cancer.
The key is to search for local groups that you think can help in your particular circumstances where possible, while making use of helplines in instances where you’re suffering with social anxiety.
2. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT): If you’re experiencing symptoms of stress or general anxiety due to your hair loss, one of the best and most recommended treatments is cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
CBT is non-invasive and essentially involves training your brain, in order to change its fundamental way of thinking and patterns of behaviour.
This approach has been known to produce impressive results over time, with reduced anxiety symptoms reported in most patients after 12 months of treatment.
It’s known to be particularly effective for generalised or social anxiety disorders, which may well ensue in instances where you’ve experienced hair loss at a young age. 3. Medication
Often, people who begin to experience hair loss will turn to licensed drugs such as Minoxidil or Propecia, which may be able to slow the progression of male pattern baldness and stimulate short-term hair growth in some instances.
If you’re dealing with the psychological fallout from hair loss, however, your doctor may also recommend or prescribe medication to help you deal with the symptoms.
These medications typically work by tackling some of the physical symptoms of stress and anxiety, without helping you to come to terms with your hair loss.
These ‘anti-anxiety’ medications include Alprazolam, Lorazepam and Clonazepam, none of which are intended to be taken indefinitely or over an extended period of time due to their high risk of abuse and dependence.
4. Last, But Not Least, Shave Your Head
The goal of measures such as CBT and attending support groups is to find perspective and alter the way in which you perceive balding.
However, the challenge is dealing with your emotions as the hair loss becomes more noticeable, especially when male pattern baldness enters its final stages.
One alternative solution is to embrace your new reality by shaving your head and removing the hair from your scalp. While this may seem drastic, it allows you to take control from a psychological perspective, while negating the gradual (and stressful) nature of hair loss in the case of male pattern baldness.
Make no mistake; this can also be empowering and immediately alter your mindset, creating a more positive outlook that compels you to create a bold new look.
The Last Word
While some instances of hair loss are attributable to psychological conditions, ailments such as male pattern baldness and telogen effluvium can also worsen or create new psychological symptoms over time.
This creates a cycle of negativity and continued hair loss, and one that will continue to worsen unless you’re able to address it directly.
Hopefully, this guide will help you to understand the psychological impact of losing your hair and manage the associated symptoms over time.