Hair loss affects many aspects of life
Hair loss affects many aspects of life
Stephanie Yuen was just an average teenager trying to get through middle school — when she was diagnosed with alopecia at age 13. Terrified and unsure where to turn for help, she quickly withdrew from the world.
“I was still in school, but I locked myself in my room every day,” Yuen said. “I put a towel on the mirror to hide my reflection.”
Yuen struggled with low self-esteem but felt unable to tell anyone about it. “Mental health was not a topic that was talked about fondly, especially growing up an Asian
family,” he said. “The therapy could have ruined our ‘reputation.'”
Now an adult and a nursing student at Rutgers, Yuen has learned to accept her condition and herself. But she still faces occasional challenges to her mental well-being. “It’s been a series of ups and downs,” she said.
More than half of women will deal with noticeable hair loss (alopecia) at some point in their lives. One of the most common forms, alopecia areata, is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks hair follicles.
The effects of alopecia often go far beyond hair loss, affecting a person’s mental and physical well-being. Understanding these effects can help you learn how to deal with them.
Hair loss increases the risk of mental health problems
The first step in coming up with a diagnosis of alopecia is often denial, said Mina Guirguis, MD, a clinical psychologist at the Emotional Wellness Center for Skin Disorders in California. “Many women will go from one dermatologist to another, hoping their diagnosis was a mistake,” Guirguis said. After the denial phase, further mental health issues may follow.
“Many will also experience periods of anger and frustration and may become depressed,” Guirguis said.
Rates of psychiatric disorders such as anxiety and depression are two or three times higher among people with alopecia areata than in the general population, according to a recent review of nearly 40 scientific studies. And more than 1 in 3 patients have shown warning signs that could turn into ailments.
Learn more about treatment and support for women with alopecia areata >>
The emotional distress caused by hair loss can also affect relationships with family and friends. People may try to hide their alopecia from others or hold back from sharing their condition with potential partners until they reach a certain level of intimacy.
“Many will wonder how others will see them: will they be accepted by others? Many will assume that others will reject them because of their alopecia,” Guirguis said.
“The first year or two after I received my diagnosis, all I wanted to do was avoid the world,” Yuen said.
Hair loss affects professional life
Hair loss can also have a major impact on your professional life. In one study, researchers followed more than 5,000 adults with a newly diagnosed alopecia areata for two years. They found that people with alopecia were 56% more likely to be absent from work and 82% more likely to be unemployed than those without the disorder.
Working with patients as a nursing student, Yuen is constantly dealing with other people’s assumptions about her hair loss. “I constantly have patients ask me if I have cancer,” Yuen said. “I always try to use these moments as an opportunity to educate others.”
Physical side effects of hair loss
Hair loss can also affect physical well-being. It can lead to problems with temperature control and exposure to the elements. And people with alopecia areata are more inclined to a wide variety of diseases and disorders that cause physical symptoms, including thyroid disease and lupus.
A review using information from the National Alopecia Areata Registry found this nearly 1 in 5 people with alopecia areata they also have at least one other autoimmune condition. This means that women with alopecia are often dealing with multiple conditions, many of which cause symptoms that are painful and difficult to treat.
The stress of hair loss hits some cultures harder
In many cultures, hair it represents youth, strength, health and beauty. Throughout history and around the world, hairstyles have been Associated with religious background, social status, sexuality, politics and more.
When your community places a lot of value on hair, losing it can be especially difficult. The history and surrounding politics Black hairfor example, mean hair is closely tied to heritage and identity.
But almost half of black women experience hair loss at some point in their life. And finding a healthcare provider who can help can be difficult: One study found that only about 3 in 10 Black women who saw a doctor for hair problems heard from their doctor. got it Black hair.
In all cultures, the stigma surrounding hair loss can be deeply traumatizing for women. “The way I present myself to the world as a bald black woman is disruptive for a lot of people,” Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley told the Washington Post in 2022. “Challenge conventional and social norms of what’s professional, what’s cute, what’s feminine, what’s acceptable… some days are harder than others. … I got rid of the secret, but I didn’t get rid of the shame”.
“When you look at social media or television programming, (there are always a lot of) hair commercials where you see women with long, full hair in the commercial,” Guirguis said. She added that women with alopecia who feel they don’t meet cultural expectations of how they should look can experience significant psychological distress and emotional trauma as a result.
“Hair is placed on such a high pedestal in our society, and it sucks,” Yuen said.
Connecting helps women cope
Dealing with the impact of hair loss on your emotional and physical well-being can be challenging, but you don’t have to be alone. “Talk to someone. Reach. It’s hard to deal with it alone,” Yuen said. “There are so many women suffering from alopecia. They can offer words of wisdom, words of comfort, or just be that person to lean on.
There are many resources available to help you process what you are going through and to connect with others who share your experience. THE National Foundation for Alopecia Areas (NAAF) provides information on support groups and peer mentors, as well as general mental health resources.
Yuen also encourages women with alopecia to work on loving themselves the way they are. She said that when she was first diagnosed, she just wanted to change herself to be like everyone else. These days she has a different attitude.
“I’m beautiful with or without hair and if someone can’t see it, it’s not worth my time.”
This resource was created with support from Eli Lilly.
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