Today’s blog post addresses a common problem that is; ‘balding and depression’. We start our discussion by understanding baldness in males and females along with other causes of baldness. We then move to understanding the various reasons that may lead to people experiencing depression after balding. Lastly, move to taking into consideration the different ways in which the point of view towards balding can be changed, so as to prevent the person from experiencing the debilitating effects of depression resulting from the hair loss.
Several people round the world experience baldness at some point in their lives. For some baldness may occur quite early in life, while for some it may be a natural consequence of ageing. Baldness, especially male baldness, is considered to be quite common and obvious and people often express surprise if a man does not go bald eventually.
Balding and Depression:
However, despite the fact that balding is common in nature, several people, especially men, tend to report distress and anguish to this occurrence. Going bald is often associated with the development of depression, lowering of self-esteem and having a poor self-image.
In the case of females as well, hair loss or going bald is a predisposing factor for anxiety and depression. For females hair is often associated with youth, vitality and beauty.
Baldness can be understood as hair loss or a gradual absence of hair and is also known as alopecia. Baldness can occur because of a variety of reasons such as age, hormonal fluctuations, illness that may lead to shedding of hair and a family history of baldness.
As mentioned above baldness occurs in men as well as women. Male baldness is more commonly reported and accepted as compared to female baldness.
There are different reasons as to why men and women may experience baldness:
Balding in men is usually hereditary and can start at any age. There is no fixed pattern in which the person may go bald, that is; there are individual differences.
Balding in females is associated with thinning of hair all across the head. Female baldness is never complete balding but is more seen in terms of widening of the hairline.
Other causes of hair loss:
- Alopecia areata:
It is characterised by sudden hair loss in one particular area of the head. The hair may regrow after a few months. However, if all the hair has been lost, then the person may not be able to grow the hair back. Researchers suggest that such type of hair loss can be due to an autoimmune condition. If there is a total loss of hair, it is called alopecia totalis, and if there is a loss of body hair, it is called as alopecia universalis.
- Toxic alopecia:
This type of alopecia may occur after a prolonged illness or disease. It can be caused by high doses of thallium, vitamin A, retinoids and cancer medicines. It can also be caused by thyroid. This condition is temporary in nature.
It is a psychiatric disorder marked by intentional hair pulling. It is commonly seen in young children.
- Scarring or cicatricial alopecia:
Scarring prevents hair from growing back. Scars may have happened due to injury, burns, x-rays. Scarring can also be caused because of lupus, bacterial or fungal skin infections, lichen planus, sarcoidosis, tuberculosis, or skin cancer.
Reasons for depression after balding:
- Hair loss or balding can be psychologically damaging and can lead to intense emotional distress and impairment in social, emotional and occupational areas of functioning. One of the primary reasons for the distress caused by hair loss is that it completely changes the way a person looks and this can be intimidating for most people. Some may also perceive hair loss as a sign of not being able to conform to the standards of beauty and appearance as set by the society.
- Balding can lead to the experience of intense distress, anxiety and depression. Balding also increases the person’s probability of developing psychiatric disorders such as a major depressive episode, anxiety disorder, social phobia (which is an avoidance behaviour which is followed by symptoms of anxiety, social and economic suffering) and paranoia.
- Culture may also be a predictor of psychological distress because of baldness. As hair is associated with youth, beauty and vitality, loss of hair is automatically seen as loss of beauty and youthfulness.
- In the case of women, hair is associated with sexuality, sensuality and beauty and therefore for women, loss of hair can be associated with loss of attractiveness which can lead to distress, loss of self-esteem and anxiety.
- Another reason for depression in men and women following hair loss or balding is the inability to grow the hair back. People often try several remedies, such as home remedies or medications, surgeries or laser treatments and can go to any extent to bring back the hair growth. Failure to achieve the desired result can be distressing and may lead to subjecting one’s worth.
How to cope with the depression caused by balding?
- Reminding oneself that hair loss and balding is not life threatening:
Because hair is associated with beauty, youthfulness, vitality, sexuality and sensuality in both men and women, hair loss can be extremely distressing. However, because the individual is not able to fit the standard beauty norms anymore, a lot of times, this situation is met with a disproportionate amount of distress and anxiety, which makes ground for further, more serious psychiatric issues.
People engage in catastrophization, making it more difficult for them to process the change. But, if the person tries to tell himself or herself, that although the change is difficult and unfortunate, it is not life threatening. By doing so, the person is able to remove the disproportionate anxiety and sadness associated with it.
- Putting things in perspective:
In most situations, the distress and depression after balding is due to the fear and anticipation that the person will not be considered desirable and will be looked down upon by friends, potential or current partners and sometimes, even family.
However, it is important to remember that the people who have unconditional positive regard for the person will accept him or her irrespective of the baldness. Further, it is also imperative for the person to acknowledge the change himself and accept it in order to be felt accepted and understood by others.
Anger and denial of the reality will make things more difficult for the person, increasing the chances of depression.
- Trying variations:
Hair loss and balding does lead to a significant amount of change in a person’s life. But, increased acceptance of the condition and the willingness to work around it can increase the person’s self esteem and sense of self-worth.
This may include trying new and different hairstyles, new hair accessories (in case of hair loss), using wigs or scarfs.
- Sense of hope that hair will grow back:
Hope is a strong catalyst for many positive things in a person’s life and this may also play a role especially when the person faces a temporary balding or hair loss, such as due to toxic alopecia (alopecia caused due to prolonged illness or disease).
Once the condition causing the hair loss and balding is taken care of, there is a very high possibility that the hair would grow back.
- Seeking therapy:
In severe cases, questioning one’s self-worth, distress, anxiety and depression due to balding can be debilitating and can interfere in the social and occupational functioning of the person. When this hampers the person’s ability to take care of their day-to-day activities, the individuals must consider seeking professional help.
REBT (Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy), ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) , Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy work well in coping with depression. At times, antidepressants may also be prescribed.
- Role models:
The way social conformity is associated with having good hair, conformity can also be achieved by taking into account the different ways in which people have accepted their baldness. By talking to people about the various ways in which they have accepted their baldness, one can be motivated to accept it too. In this way, the possibility of the person being looked down upon because of baldness decreases.
Today’s blog post addressed a common problem that is; ‘balding and depression’. We started our discussion by understanding baldness in males and females along with other causes of baldness. We then moved to understanding the various reasons that may lead to people to experience depression after balding. Lastly, moved to taking into consideration, the different ways in which the point of view towards balding can be changed, so as to prevent the person from experiencing the debilitating effects of depression resulting from the hair loss.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Can mental illness also cause baldness?
Yes. Studies have shown that stress and anxiety induced stress, can contribute to certain hair loss conditions such as alopecia areata, where large clumps of hair may fall off for no particular reason, causing patches of hair loss. Some people may also experience hair loss in other parts of the body.
Is balding a sign of bad health?
Studies show that males with pattern baldness have an increased risk of developing heart diseases and prostate cancer.
At what age do you start balding?
Usually, by the time a person is around 30 years of age, he develops a 25%chance that he may display come balding. By the age of 50 years about 50% of men have noticeable hair loss and by the time the person reaches 60 to 70 years of age, two-thirds of people are either bald or display a balding pattern.
What is baldness a sign of?
Baldness can be a result of hereditary, hormonal changes, medical conditions or a normal consequence of ageing. Although, both men and women are prone to hair loss, balding is more commonly seen in men than women. In baldness, there is an excessive hair loss from the scalp, making it difficult for the hair to grow back in some cases.
Can other mental illnesses cause baldness?
Other than anxiety, individuals with OCD, impulse control disorder, bipolar disorder can also experience hair loss and balding. Another condition such as trichotillomania refers to the uncontrollable urge to pull out the hair from the scalp, eyebrow or any other area of the body can also lead to permanent hair loss due to the potential scarring of the tissue.
What we recommend for depression
If you are suffering from depression then ongoing professional counselling may be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you live a more fulfilling life.