For those experiencing it, hair loss can be every bit as painful as any other type of grief because the sense of loss is emotional as well as physical. In fact, the five stages of grief apply here too: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. It can have a devastating impact on the life of any sufferer, male or female, and increasingly, women are seeking solutions for their hair loss.
Men and women tend to cope comparatively well with the gradual emergence of wrinkles and even grey hair. So what is it about losing our hair that makes us feel so depressed, so anxious, so alone? I feel that it’s because you can get an instant fix for grey hair (hello, hair dye) and even for wrinkles (Botox, fillers and so on), but hair loss treatments tend to be less ‘quick fix’ and more ‘long term commitment’.
Our Appearance Is A Significant Part Of Our Identity
It’s not just how other people view and recognise us, but how we view our own worth in society. We’ve been conditioned to believe that unless we don’t have the ‘good looks‘, we won’t be accepted among our peers. Social media has a lot to answer for here. You can’t scroll through an Instagram feed (or even watch the previews of TV shows) without feeling somewhat inadequate. The personal appearance industry is geared towards perfection. You must have perfect skin, perfect teeth, a ripped body, immaculately groomed facial hair (including eyebrows) and of course, great hair. That’s all even before fashion comes into play.
World leading IAHRS.org hair transplant surgeon Dr. Scott Alexander in Phoenix commented:
“Hair loss causes real emotional trauma and I spend a great deal of time with patients counselling them on the psychological impact of losing hair before opting for surgery with my clinic.”
Not all of us were born supermodels but all do our best with what we have. What a shock then to discover that what we have is gradually slipping away! Every time you glance in the mirror you notice an evermore receding hairline. As someone who began noticing this from my late teens, I can tell you, it’s devastating. One of the worst parts of it is that you feel out of control. You start trying everything: shampoos and conditioners that promise the world, natural remedies that are marketed to be the best thing since sliced bread, vitamins, lotions, serums and haircuts designed to “ease the weight of your hair so your hairline doesn’t shed”. Nothing seems to work and you become more alarmed as the weeks pass.
Spiralling Into Depression
Your self-esteem is often the first thing to go, pretty much at the same rate as your hair fall. You start hiding your hair under hats and caps, you avoid socialising and your relationships become fractured. Once isolated from your social circles, you begin to feel like an outcast, even though it’s of your own volition. Some people report feelings of paranoia, that ‘everyone is looking at me and judging me’.
Dr. Greg Vida at The Harley Street Hair Clinic in London commented:
“Many young patients are overwhelmed and consumed by hair loss and it’s so important they do not rush in to any quick fixes, due to the vulnerability hair loss causes.”
The sense of futility grows as you continue searching for solutions and not achieving results. You feel like you’re carrying a great burden, a shameful secret that’s really not anyone’s fault, nor, really, a fault at all. It’s a natural phenomenon. Male, and female, pattern baldness is a hereditary condition, but that doesn’t help the sufferer feel any better about it.
Hair loss can bring into focus the reality that none of us is immortal. After all, if our hair can fall out, what else can go wrong? It reminds us that we’re subject to our hormones and our genes. Even though we know we’re not going to live forever, looking older and less attractive makes it all the more depressing.
Depression and anxiety are very real side effects of hair loss. It’s made worse by the fact that the hair loss industry is rife with charlatans looking to part you from your money without any guarantee of a satisfactory result. You go through mild to intolerable anguish at your appearance, begin experiencing mental health impacts and then also have to suffer the indignity of being ripped off.
Spencer Kobren founder of the American Hair Loss Association comments :
“Hair loss is like a cancer of the spirit. It’s a silent epidemic of biblical proportion.”
Another concerning consideration is that while hair loss can lead to the onset of anxiety and depression, mental illness can also cause hair loss. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you are reading this right now and feel you’re experiencing any symptoms of anxiety or depression, whichever way around it may be happening for you, act now to get help. You deserve and need good mental health.
Getting Help For Your Hair Loss
For hair loss that is caused by anxiety, depression, stress, grief or any other mental impact, the good news is that when you get your condition treated, your hair growth may return to normal. See your GP first.
On the other hand, if your hair loss came first, your first port of call is still your GP but you might well need request a referral to a hair loss specialist. It’s highly recommended you do your own due diligence too and use the resources below to get your head (no pun intended) around what treatments work and what simply don’t. I learnt that the hard way.
Please, I beg of you, don’t just take a wander through social media and pick out the glitziest practitioner who offers the sexiest solution for an unbeatable price and makes sky-high promises to cure you forever. Do your homework and find a clinic that has the runs on the board; plenty of patient testimonials, a phone number you can call for a chat and an office you can attend to meet the specialist. An examination might result in a prescription for treatments that are backed by medical science. If hair transplant surgery is recommended or preferred you must get educated and choose a reputable, board-certified experienced and legitimate surgeon. Don’t be tempted to skip off to Turkey or the Philippines for the oh-so-glamorous ‘medical tourism’ option. Not only may you find yourself with irreparable scarring, you could suffer even worse injuries after being treated by a part time dentist.
For legitimate listings of highly respected hair transplant surgeons, visit iahrs.org. The International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons is the only society ever to be recognised by Consumer Reports, Consumer’s Digest and Web MD. Keep in mind that surgery is a last resort and there are many different options that come before it is offered.
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You’re Not Alone In This
As isolated as you probably feel, hair loss is incredibly common. In the UK, approximately 1 in 5 women aged over 25 experience hair loss or thinning. Two thirds of all men will find themselves impacted by male pattern baldness, which, in the UK, amounts to around 7.4 million men.
I, myself have had a total of 13 hair transplants to date. Before you recoil in horror at the number, keep in mind that when I had my first, it was an unmitigated disaster and I’ve had to have corrections. Plus, most men will need at least a couple of follow-up surgeries to account for the nature of progressive hair loss. At least these days, the hair loss industry is getting wise to the charlatans and putting measures in place to protect the hapless sufferer, namely, organisations and resources such as:
- My own website Spexhair.com.
- The International Alliance of Hair Restoration Surgeons.
- The Global Hair Loss Summit 2020.
- The American Hair Loss Association.
- The Bald Truth Radio show.
- Hair Transplant Mentor.
Which will all provide you a sound overview and unbiased insight and basic knowledge of where to start and how to start your research journey safely into what’s right for you.
Advice from someone who’s been there, done that.
My best advice is to firstly, remember that hair loss is not caused by anything that’s your fault. Secondly, the sooner you seek proper medical help, the better the outcome should be. Better in terms of keeping your mental health intact and in terms of treatment results. Thirdly, do not fall victim to dodgy operators.
If it looks too good to be true, it absolutely is. And finally, remember that you are not your hair. You are the same person inside, no matter how many strands of hair are on your head. Seek help and look forward to looking and feeling better.