Author: Nikki Jiang
Editors: Yanxi Chen and Ken Saito
Artist: Susan Wu
Depression, anxiety, stress, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are all linked to hair loss or alopecia. Alopecia areata is a dermatological and immune disorder where hair follicles are attacked by the immune system, resulting in either regional bald spots or large areas of hair loss. The medication to treat these often causes hair loss as well. Studies have shown that alopecia comes with negative psychological effects and decreased self-esteem, worsening the mental condition of psychiatric patients.
All drugs have side effects. Medications that are advertised online always have disclaimers about possible side effects and risks. A common side effect of some medications is hair loss, especially in psychiatric drugs. This is especially an issue for those on antidepressants, antipsychotics, and antianxiety medications. Mood stabilizers used in psychiatric treatment such as Zyprexa and Risperdal list hair thinning as a side effect. By exacerbating one’s hair loss, there are many psychological disorders that can come. To combat medicine-induced alopecia, patients should work with their doctors in using a different medication.
Hair makes up a big part of one’s self-confidence, especially for women. Femininity is often directly connected to a woman's amount of hair. Stress is induced in alopecia patients from not fitting social norms. Previous research on the psychological effects of alopecia showed higher levels of depression and anxiety, as well as poor self-body image and confidence. For psychiatric patients, these effects worsen their conditions. Patients may even suffer from PTSD caused by alopecia. Patients with pre-existing psychological disorders already suffer from hair loss, medication-induced alopecia. Alopecia causes a further drop in a patient’s quality of life, creating an endless cycle for many.
Currently, there is not yet a treatment for alopecia areata other than steroid injections. Minoxidil is a popular over-the-counter hair loss medication. However, it does not have very high efficacy and is known for increasing heart pressure. Doctors should be more aware of the psychological effects that alopecia has, especially in psychiatric patients, because limited research has gone into psychiatric conditions and hair loss currently. More research will allow us to learn about how to prevent and end the cycle of alopecia and psychiatric disorders.
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