Depression, and especially severe depression, can cause hair loss, and as anyone that has experienced hair loss can tell you, hair loss can absolutely lead to depression. This vicious cycle leads to feelings of hopelessness and despair, but through my own experience, I believe there is hope for helping depression, and the depression caused by hair loss.
• Depression causes hair loss
Doctors argue whether or not depression can cause your hair to thin and fall out, and if it does, how severe the depression must be to take a physical toll on your hair. I haven’t been able to find studies that show how depressed you must be to lose hair, and how much hair you will lose if you are depressed. But the majority of doctors will agree that depression can definitely cause hair loss to some extent. If depression is your only contributing factor, the temporary hair loss – telogen effluvium - should eventually begin to correct itself a few months after the depression lifts. When you are in a state of depression, the hardest thing to do is get help, but it’s essential. Please talk to a doctor, tell someone you trust and ask them to get you help, or contact the suicide prevention lifeline if necessary. Two other types of hair loss – alopecia areata, and trichotillomania, are also made worse by depression, and I will talk more about these conditions in the future.
• Hair loss from depression medication
It’s a cruel irony that when you really need medication to help your depression, the side effects of the drugs can cause hair loss (generally temporary). Speak with your doctor, because there are some anti-depressants that have a lesser chance of causing hair loss as a side effect. Your goal is to get better, which will ideally help the hair loss, or at least help you deal with it better.
• Other causes of depression that are linked to hair loss
Depression is a complicated issue that has many possible causes, many of which also contribute to hair loss. Aside from genetics and traumatic events, depression can be caused by a hormone imbalance, thyroid disorder, side effect from medication, vitamin deficiency, stress, chronic illness, and substance abuse, and all of these issues are also linked to hair loss! Again it’s essential to work with your doctor to attempt to treat all of your problems.
• Hair loss causes depression
After you realize you are losing your hair and you visit a Dermatologist, mostly likely you will be told “it’s only hair,” “you’re crazy – your hair is fine,” “you won’t go totally bald,” or “get over yourself.” I’ve been told all of these things by doctors and even by friends and family members. Nothing makes you feel even worse than having no support, and feeling like no one cares or understands. Even though it’s only hair and there a way more horrible things that could be wrong with you, it doesn’t hurt any less.
Society tells women we have to have thick, luscious hair to be beautiful, and women are made to feel their hair is what makes them attractive and desirable. And if a woman is defined by her hair (as I was), losing it is even harder. Another problem with hair loss is many women don’t know what is actually causing it and that is maddening - is it temporary from having low iron or a low thyroid or not enough vitamin D, or is it genetic, or is there something obscure that I’m overlooking? Aside from working with a therapist (which I haven’t yet but should), joining an online hair loss support group like Women’s Hair Loss Project is what I find helps the most. There are hundreds of thousands of women out there going through the same thing, even though it seems like you’re the only one.
• My ongoing depression and hair loss story
I’ve always been prone to depression and self-diagnosed myself with dysthymia years ago, which is chronic low level depression. There are times when things in my life are going really well, and my situational depression vanishes for a year or two at a time. In my late 20s, I was going through some personal problems and found myself in the midst of the worst depression I had ever experienced. I felt completely hopeless and really couldn’t imagine I would ever feel happy again. To make matters worse, one day I looked in a horrible bathroom mirror and discovered my hair was thinning too. I had always worried excessively about losing my hair, and now I was barely functional, and going bald – my worst fear! I then became hyper focused on finding a cure for my hair loss, and realized the connection between depression and hair loss, which made me feel even more hopeless initially. I went to several doctors about the hair loss, and was diagnosed with temporary hair loss – telogen effluvium, and I also went on medication for depression, which was extremely scary because of the potential hair loss side effect. As bad as I was, I didn’t seek treatment for my depression until my hair started falling out, even though I should have. Without going into a lot of details, after about a year of the deep depression, I was able to come out of it enough to feel slightly hopeful again. At the time I also had hope that once my depression lifted, my hair would come back, so that also kept me going.
When I look back at photos from that time, my hair did end up getting a little better a year or so after the worst of the depression, and once I realized I wasn’t going bald anytime soon, my anxiety over my hair loss subsided a little – I was no longer totally obsessed with it. My hair looked good enough, even though it was probably 30-40% thinner than it had been when I was in college. Nothing brings you right back into the depths of despair, though, like another bout with hair loss. Fast forward 7 years to the summer of 2010, and I went through another dramatic shedding phase where my hair no longer looked acceptable to me. The year before I had secretly bargained with my hair that as much as I didn’t like it, I would be okay if I never got any of my lost hair back, as long as it never got worse. My hair didn’t care, and I lost another 20% last year, and that’s when the receding began. My hope that my hair loss was a chronic temporary problem was shattered – I had genetic hair loss and it would probably only keep getting worse. Half of 2010 was spent with me waking up from a nightmare, only to realize the nightmare was my real life. Again, nothing depresses you more than knowing your worrying and depression is making your hair worse, but you can’t stop worrying because you are going bald! So you feel completely hopeless. That’s when I started researching my options, and I realized there is hope – in the form of supplemental hair. Knowing there are great options out there for me again gives me hope. At this point my hair looks like crap, so I look forward to the day I will actually have enviable hair again.
I no longer wake up in a panic every morning. But I know it’s only a matter of time that I can’t hide my hair loss any more. The waiting period, though, is unnerving because I don’t know if it will be days, months, or years before I will need the supplemental hair. I don’t want to start wearing it until I have to, but I don’t want to wait too long. I’ve also read the horror stories about finding great, realistic, affordable hair, so that scares me. And finally, I don’t think I’ll ever be truly free from the hair loss-induced depression. On days when giant clumps of hair fall out, I go right back into a state of panic. Now good days are ones where I don’t lose too much hair. I also fear how I will feel when I look in the mirror in the future when my hair is even worse. I don’t think I’ll ever be okay with getting old, wrinkled, and bald. But despite all of that, somehow I am managing to cope better now than I did 7 years ago, even though I am now older, balder, and more wrinkly. Living with hair loss is a daily struggle, and knowing the major depression could always come back scares me. I wish I had a real solution that would help others. It does get better, but it will always be a struggle.