If you have alopecia areata, you are probably no stranger to a roller coaster of emotions. It’s true that this condition isn’t life-threatening and doesn't cause physical pain. But it can impact how you think about yourself and others. Research shows that over 70% of adults with alopecia areata experience depression or anxiety, and about 60% go on drugs to help these symptoms. Almost 13% are at risk of suicide.
If you have alopecia areata, it’s very important to keep tabs on your emotions, and, if necessary, get help.
What You May Feel
If you have alopecia areata, you may experience a myriad of emotions, which includes:
- Loneliness and isolation
- Fear that others may find out
It’s very normal to have these feelings. Your hair is often linked to your personal identity. If you lose your hair, you may feel like you’ve lost part of yourself, as well. You may also find that you skip activities you once enjoyed because you’re embarrassed and anxious. It’s important to acknowledge all these feelings so that you can get the social and mental health support you need.
How to Take Care of Yourself
If you have alopecia areata, it’s very important to practice self-care. Steps include:
Celebrate your overall health. You may worry that your alopecia areata is a hidden sign of cancer or another dangerous disease. The good news is most people who have alopecia areata are healthy. It’s still normal to want to camouflage small symptoms, though. If you have small patches, you can use a hair-colored powder, cream, or crayon. If they are larger, you can try a wig, hairpiece, scarf, or hat.
Reduce stress. Anecdotally, some people with alopecia areata report that they notice a new cycle of hair loss after they go through a period of stress. It’s important to try to learn to manage your stress with a technique such as yoga or meditation. Exercise is also a good way to relieve tension. One study found that people with alopecia areata who had more than half of hair loss on their scalp and who stayed active were less likely to report depression, anxiety, or stress than people who were couch potatoes.
Get support. Many people with alopecia areata experience emotions such as loneliness, poor self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. The National Alopecia Areata Foundation offers support group programs throughout the world. You can find more information here. They also provide peer mentors and one-on-one phone support. If these don’t help, or feelings of depression and anxiety worsen, you can ask your doctor for a referral to a licensed therapist. You can also find names through the American Psychological Association.
Gain hope. If you have alopecia areata, it’s very important that you seek out a board-certified dermatologist who has expertise in this area. There are many new treatments in this area that can help slow down or potentially even reverse your hair loss. They may also be able to guide you to clinical trials to test new treatments and therapies.
Warning Signs You Should Look For
It’s very important that you pay attention to warning signs of depression. These include:
- A persistent sad mood
- Loss of interest in regular activities
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Trouble with concentration
- Problems with sleeping
- Suicidal thoughts
- Changes in appetite
It’s normal to have some of these thoughts occasionally, but if they last for more than 2 weeks, let your doctor know. If you struggle with your alopecia areata diagnosis at all, it’s also a good idea to seek support. Treatment for depression includes:
Talk therapy. It helps with depression because it focuses on ways you can disrupt negative thinking patterns and cope with the stress of life with alopecia areata.
Medications. These help the way your brain uses certain chemicals called neurotransmitters that help control your mood.
Although you may not feel like it, it’s important to spend time with other people so you feel less alone. Avoid making any big life decisions, like marriage or a job change, during this time. Be gentle with yourself. You won’t be able to just “snap out” of symptoms. Like any disease, it takes time to feel better again.
Alopecia Areata and Your Relationships
Alopecia areata can make both your professional and personal life hard to navigate. Research has found that as many as 1 in 6 people are uncomfortable having contact with someone who has hair loss, and 6% say they wouldn’t hire them for a job.
One big worry you may have is whether to tell your employer and co-workers. Your decision may depend on:
- Your work environment
- How close you feel with co-workers
- Whether you feel safe and supported when you discuss your alopecia areata with others
You’ll also have to be prepared to provide education and information to your co-workers about what alopecia areata is and how it impacts your life.
It can also be tough to know when to open up about alopecia areata with your friends and your partner. You may want to do this right at the beginning of a new relationship or opt instead to wait for a bit. While it can be tricky to talk about at first, many people with alopecia areata do report that it can strengthen friendships and relationships. If you are around people who accept you for who you are, it can boost your self-confidence. While many people with AA also worry that hair loss will make it harder to find a partner, most report that they have found that this isn’t the case.
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National Alopecia Areata Association: “Alopecia Areata and Emotional Wellness,” “Clinical Trials,” “Living with Alopecia Areata.”
Dermatology of Research Practice: “Psychological Impact of Alopecia Areata.”
National Institutes of Health: “Five Tips for Living with Alopecia Areata,” “Psychological Profile and Quality of Life of Patients with Alopecia Areata.”
Canadian Alopecia Areata Foundation: “Living with Alopecia.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “Alopecia Areata Self-Care,” “Alopecia Areata Diagnosis and Treatment.”
BMC Psychology: “The Relationship Between Physical Activity Levels and Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, and Stress in Individuals with Alopecia Areata.”
JAMA Dermatology: “Evaluation of Stigma Toward Individuals with Alopecia.”
HealthTalk: “Alopecia (Young People) -- Friendships, Relationships, and Alopecia.”