Coming to Terms with Hair Loss – and the grieving process
It goes without saying that hair loss – regardless of gender – can be devastating. It can dent a person’s self-esteem and negatively affect their overall quality of life.
“Studies on the psychosocial impact of hair loss have found patients’ self-esteem, body image, and self-confidence to be negatively impacted.” 1. (Dr. Francis) “Known psychosocial complications include depression, low self-esteem, altered self-image, and less frequent and enjoyable social engagement.”
It seems experts are in agreement, however, that women are significantly more likely to suffer emotionally as a result of hair loss.
Dr. Francis goes on to say: “Hair loss in a woman is so emotionally devastating that it can trigger a wide range of social and emotional issues that can negatively impact healthy daily living and overall quality of life. I have heard of women that retreat from social situations have diminished work performance, and even alter their healthy living – avoiding exercise, overeating, not treating other medical illnesses – due to their hair loss.”
But why do women see a greater emotional impact from hair loss than men? I think we all know the answer to that: society puts far more pressure on women to stay young, beautiful—perfect.
For older women, hair loss is perceived as accelerated aging and women have to deal with a sense of loss of virility and sexual attraction to their mate as well.
Various studies all agree that hair loss may lead to depression, anxiety, and social phobia.
- Depression can lead to a feeling of low mood, lack of interest or pleasure in activities, loss of energy, and sleep deprivation.
- Anxiety can cause excessive worrying, difficulty in controlling those feelings, and a feeling of heightened tension.
- Social phobia or avoidance behavior follows on from the experience of anxiety symptoms, leading to social and economic suffering.
- Social anxiety disorder is characterized by the fear of humiliation or being judged negatively in social situations as well as the avoidance of such social or performance situations.
These symptoms can have a severe impact on an individual’s mental health, ability to work or study, and well-being.
One question that I see over and over: how long does it take to come to terms with this? There is no one answer for everyone, as you might expect. It depends on your support system, age, how you go through the grieving process, and how well you handle the loss.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you won’t need time to process this and actually grieve—or that there is a time limit allowed. Hair loss is a devastating loss like so many other types of losses. You need time to grieve and go through the stages of loss until you come out at acceptance.
Developing a relationship with a good wig company, one that has advisors on all aspects of wig-wearing and hair loss, is vital. You need someone on your side, and the more the better. In a time when you might still be in the throes of the grieving process, it is hard to make decisions. That is when you need to fall back on people who can help see you through to that acceptance stage.
What I have learned: Grief isn’t linear. It doesn’t involve clearly defined stages … It carves long, meandering, and varied paths that popular myths do little to prepare us for.
So, it is crucial to remember that you will bounce around in the acceptance stage and “backslide” now and then back into the grieving process. This is normal, so don’t beat yourself up about it. In the end, we get on with things, and for me, that meant finding wigs that made me feel like me, or even better—wigs that looked better than my bio hair even at its peak! We all have challenges in life, some more serious than others. I try to keep that in mind every day and try to be grateful that my challenge is one that has support from places like WigStudio1, and others going on the same journey.
As we go into the summer months, I have already pulled out my Muse, Classic Cool, Straight up with a Twist, and In Charge. I am ready for it. Hope you are too, but if not, reach out for help. Here on this site and/or the private Facebook group. You will find a lot of support along with wig-wearing expertise.
Until next time,
- Dr. Shani Francis, American Academy of Dermatology and director of the Hair Disorders Center of Excellence at Northshore University Health System in Illinois