Mental Health and Women's Hair Loss
The relationship between our mental health and hair loss is a complex one. Certain life-altering events such as the death of a loved one, a period of illness or a divorce can be triggers for hair loss.
Or sometimes losing your hair can itself cause extreme stress, depression or anxiety, particularly for women, when there’s so much societal focus on appearance.
Here we explore how hair loss may be affected by stress, and discuss how seeing a specialist can help.
Can stress cause hair loss?
The short answer is yes. Severe emotional trauma can sometimes have an impact on our hair a few months after the actual event. Some women find that they suddenly shed a lot of hair after experiencing a period of extreme stress, such as divorce or the death of a parent.
The condition is known as Telogen Effluvium and is due to the release of stress hormones which can cause some of your hair to stop growing and go into its resting phase. After around three months the affected hairs shed at once, leading to noticeably thinner hair, usually all over the scalp.
This can be understandably upsetting, but Telogen Effluvium is usually a temporary condition, and your hair is likely to grow back normally within a few months without any need for treatment, particularly if underlying issues have been addressed.
How can hair loss affect your mental health?
Hair is often an important part of our identity and appearance, especially for women. Finding bald patches on your scalp or noticing your hair is much thinner – caused by conditions such as Alopecia Areata or Female Pattern Hair Loss – can negatively impact your emotional wellbeing.
Dr Sarita Singh, a Consultant Dermatologist and an expert in women’s hair loss, explains how the loss of their hair can place a huge amount of stress on patients:
‘It can be frightening when your hair suddenly starts to fall out and you may worry about losing all your hair. It can disrupt your social life, making you more withdrawn, and can affect how you feel about your appearance and confidence.’
She points out that the psychological impact of hair loss on women is often neglected, but has carried out her own study, which shows that 50% of her hair loss patients reported high levels of anxiety and depression, affecting their daily activities, work and sexual relationships. Dr Singh believes it is vital that these issues are addressed through dedicated counselling or psychological support during the treatment process.
What can you do about hair loss?
It’s easy to suffer in silence if you’re experiencing any type of hair loss – you may be too embarrassed or afraid to seek help. But a comprehensive diagnosis can be helpful in regaining control and preventing further anxiety.
It’s also important to see a specialist at the earliest opportunity, as hair loss in women can often be managed effectively. An accurate diagnosis will help identify the possible contributing factors and a Consultant Dermatologist can then create a personalised treatment plan, which may include topical medication, steroid injections, hormone treatment, and detailed advice on lifestyle changes.
Sometimes there is no simple cure, but Dr Singh emphasises that in most cases of female hair loss there are treatments that will stabilise your hair loss, and in many cases help it regrow.
How important is it to address mental health issues?
Hair loss can have complex causes and there are debates about what role stress might play. If, for example, you are suffering from Telogen Effluvium caused by severe trauma it is important to get support around addressing any lasting emotional issues, otherwise the problem can persist. Seeing a counsellor or psychotherapist can help you feel understood and their expertise will enable you to find the best way to manage your mental health.
Many women also find that hair loss can take a huge emotional toll - particularly Alopecia Areata, which is sudden and often recurring. According to Dr Singh, research shows the benefits of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and other therapeutic interventions, helping women to significantly improve their quality of life. Changes to diet, regular exercise, and other stress-reducing activities such as yoga and meditation can also be helpful.
Dr Singh favours an integrated approach, bringing in different areas of expertise to treat hair loss, such as gynaecology and specialist psychological and nutritional support. ‘Hair loss can be a complicated condition, and there are often multiple factors at play, including stress and emotional trauma. It’s my job to be a detective and help women understand what these different factors might be.’
Visiting our London clinic
If you are experiencing hair loss and would like to find out more or make an appointment, please call 020 7244 4200.