Female hair loss is often seen as a superficial issue, with little attention paid to the effects it can have on our mental health.
But even though there usually isn’t any accompanying physical pain, evidence suggests that the emotional and psychological repercussions of hair loss can be devastating.
Our Resident General Practitioner Dr Simmy Kaur explains more…
Losing your hair can have huge consequences on your confidence, affecting relationships, work and social interactions. So it’s really important to open up and talk about how it’s affecting you.
One way we approach this in practice is through psychodermatology.
This is a term used to describe the interaction between the mind and skin, such as how a patient' scalp problem is affecting their mood and their ability to carry out every day activities. This allows for patients to really open up about their condition which ultimately will contribute to the healing process.
Psychodermatology is something all UK doctors are trained in, ensuring that patients receive a holistic approach to their treatment. Although due to pressures on the NHS and time constraints, it’s not always possible to delve deeply into the topic in a time-pressured appointment. That’s why it’s so important to mention to your doctor if your scalp health is affecting your everyday life and mood. If your doctor can’t speak to you extensively at the time - they can see you again, or recommend therapies and support groups where you can talk to other people with similar experiences.
There is increasing evidence that talking therapies and psychological input can really help to provide positive outcomes for patients. Specific psychodermatology appointments can also be accessed privately.
Some specialist psychodermatology clinics do exist – therefore, it’s always good to ask your GP if there is a possibility for referral. However, they are very sparse and generally tend to be kept for extreme cases. They tend to have very strict referral criteria and often work in conjunction with psychiatrists and specialist mental health nurses.
Remember your GP or dermatologist can provide the psychological support that you need along with your skin disorder, this has always been the case – it’s just not readily talked about.
Your mental health
Anxiety and depression can most certainly contribute to hair loss.
Many studies have shown that stress and stressful life events can directly lead to hair loss. Some people may have underlying mental health conditions that they don’t know about that might cause hair loss - therefore it’s always good to speak to your GP if you’re worried or concerned.
If this is the case, the key is treating the mental health problem itself - using talking therapies, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, relaxation techniques or even medicine. Most patients will see a positive improvement to their hair loss once their mental health is under control. And remember, just because you may need help once, doesn't mean that it will be that way forever.
There are many meditation and mindfulness apps that are great if you’re new to meditation. Meditation helps us to train our minds to slow down when our negative thoughts can get a bit out of control.
If you feel like your mental health is affected by hair loss, taking a psychodermatological approach is key. Some patients are quite aware and mindful of the psychological effects of their hair loss and so ask for help early on. But others sometimes take longer to seek help, especially if they’re experiencing hair loss for the first time.
I strongly believe that psychological is just as important as physical treatment – and taking a holistic, psycho-dermatological approach to hair loss is usually the best way forward.
Obviously for some people, their hair doesn’t fully grow back.
My advice would be if you don't feel fully supported mentally, seek help – Alopecia UK is a great resource where you’ll be able to find a support group near you. There are so many people out there in the same situation as you that feel the same way as you do.
Patients of mine have found that talking about the issue can be really cathartic and beneficial for the psychological healing process when dealing with such a life changing condition.
In some cases where patients have patchy hair loss such as those with alopecia areata, the psychological effects can sometimes be overlooked. Therefore it’s really important to talk about it. A problem shared is a problem halved!
If all of the above sounds similar to your situation, the key thing is to talk and ask for help!
Tell your doctor that your hair loss is affecting your life. It’s also really helpful to keep a symptom diary too as sometimes it’s hard to remember everything when you’re on the spot! You can take it along with you to your appointment to help prompt you. It also allows the doctor to get a good grasp of how it’s affecting your life. Just remember – you’re not alone.