Alopecia Areata and Emotional Wellness

Though the symptoms of alopecia areata typically do not cause physical pain, many people with the condition say that it causes emotional, or psychological, pain. This type of pain is as serious (and can feel the same) as physical pain and can lead to feelings of sadness, depression and anxiety.

Depression, sadness, and anxiety, as well as other psychological conditions, are common in people with chronic diseases. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), people with chronic medical conditions, such as alopecia areata, are at higher risk of developing depression than people who don’t experience serious health issues. Researchers have found connections between how we feel and how our immune system functions. In short, while emotional pain doesn’t cause alopecia; it is clear there are links to how our bodies respond.

People who have alopecia areata commonly report a variety of responses to their disease including

  • Feeling alone, withdrawn and isolated

  • Experiencing loss and grief

  • Fearing that others may find out that they have the disease or are wearing a wig

  • Embarrassment and anger

  • Thinking that they are to blame for their diagnosis

  • Feeling guilty that their disease is affecting their loved ones

  • Frantically searching for an answer or cure

If you are experiencing these thoughts or any others related to coping with alopecia areata, know that how you feel about your condition is valid. No one can tell you what you are feeling is “right” or “wrong.” If you find that your feelings about alopecia areata are negatively affecting your everyday life, you may want to seek support in the form of a group, private counselor or an individual whom you trust.

Symptoms of Depression

Depression is a very common disease. Scientists believe depression may be caused by a combination of our genes, the environment, our brain biology and life experiences. According to the NIMH, the symptoms of depression include

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood

  • Feelings of hopelessness, pessimism

  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, helplessness

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities

  • Decreased energy, fatigue, being “slowed down”

  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions

  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping

  • Appetite and/or weight changes

  • Thoughts of death or suicide, suicide attempts

  • Restlessness, irritability

  • Persistent physical symptoms 

If you’ve experienced three or more of these symptoms every day for two weeks or longer, you may have depression. It’s important to remember that each person will experience depression differently – you may have some of these symptoms but not others. But above all, if you are struggling with your alopecia areata diagnosis and are wondering if coping with this condition is affecting your state of mind, we encourage you to seek support. Treating depression at its earliest stages can have a profound impact on your overall health and everyday life.

Treating Depression     

Depression is treatable. For the majority of people experiencing depression, treatment options fall in two broad categories: medications and talk therapy (also known as psychotherapy). Many people use a combination of both options. 

Talk therapy helps people with depression, anxiety and other mood issues. There are several different types of talk therapy that focus on helping people disrupt their negative thinking, work through troubled relationships, and/or cope with stressful life experiences. You can participate in talk therapy through support groups, with a licensed therapist or with a trusted advisor, such as a cleric or rabbi.

When talk therapy alone isn’t enough, some people turn to medications to help relieve the symptoms of depression. These medications can help the way your brain uses certain chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that control mood or stress. Each medication can affect these neurotransmitters in different ways and has different side effects, so it’s important to work with a doctor to find a treatment that is right for you.

In addition to medications and talk therapy, there are lifestyle changes that you can make to improve your state of mind. These include

  • Exercise and activity

  • Setting realistic and achievable goals for yourself

  • Spending time with other people

  • Learning all you can about depression and how it impacts you

  • Postponing making big life decisions such as getting married or divorced or changing jobs until you feel better

Be gentle on yourself during this time of recovery – don’t expect to “snap out” of feeling blue right away. Depression is a disease and any like disease, it can take time for the symptoms to go away. As Richard M. Long, Ed.D., an expert on alopecia areata and mental health and a long-time advisor to the National Alopecia Areata Foundation says, “There is great joy in feeling good. If any of the symptoms of depression feel familiar to you, seek help. Feeling depressed is a normal part of life and so is taking steps to treat it.”

Resources for Managing Depression

There are many resources out there to help you cope with your diagnosis of alopecia areata. We encourage you to explore your options even if you are not sure that what you are experiencing is a form of depression. 

Talk with others who have alopecia areata

Other mental health resources

Resources for parents