Psychological Effects of Alopecia Areata
Alopecia areata is a common condition that does not discriminate. It can occur at any age, and affects males and females equally. Though many men without alopecia areata lose or have lost their hair, and the bald look on men has become acceptable if not desirable, adapting to a diagnosis of alopecia as a man can still be extremely difficult. Women with alopecia are immediately confronted with the drastic change in their appearance, and the implications of this on how they view themselves and how society views them.
Although not life-threatening, alopecia is most certainly life-altering, and its sudden onset, recurrent episodes, and unpredictable course have a profound psychological impact on the lives of those disrupted by this disease. But there is hope. In all cases, hair re-growth may occur even without treatment and even after many years. People who have alopecia areata and their family members often experience a variety of feelings and frustrations. Reactions to the disease include the following:
• Alone, withdrawn, and isolated
• Loss and grief
• Fear that others may find out you have the disease
• Fear that others may find out that you wear a wig
• Sadness and depression
• Guilt or self-blame that you somehow brought the disease on yourself
• Guilt related to how the disease is affecting family members and loved ones
• Frantic in regard to searching for an answer or cure (going to extremes)
• For parents, guilt that they may have genetically contributed to their child’s disease
• For parents, helplessness that they cannot stop the disease or help ease their child’s pain
• For siblings and other family members, shame and anger because the disease has also affected their lives.
For many people, alopecia areata is experienced as a trauma. The disease can also be traumatic for the parents or other family members of those who have the disease. Many people who have experienced trauma find it helpful to talk with a mental health professional that can help them work through their feelings and learn coping skills. A good way to know if you need counseling is to examine how alopecia areata is affecting your life.
One way to find a mental health professional is by asking your physician for a referral. Another way is to call your local mental health association or crisis hotline and ask for a referral. You might also want to ask a friend or NAAF fellow support group member who has been in counseling for a personal recommendation.
After an alopecia diagnosis, it is important to realize that you are not alone. NAAF has developed many programs aimed at connecting individuals who have alopecia areata in common. Whether you would like to talk with another parent on the telephone, or you would prefer to have your family attend a local support group, NAAF can help. It will do you no good to keep your questions and your feelings bottled inside; there is somebody who will understand, and may even have a bit of valuable advice.
Source: National Alopecia Areata Foundation