The sudden hair loss symptomatic of the autoimmune disorder Alopecia Areata can be traumatic for those affected. As such, it is perhaps unsurprising that the condition has been linked to causing depression.
However, it is also believed to be the case that an existing diagnosis of depression prior to developing any patchy hair loss, may greatly increase a person's risk of developing Alopecia Areata, or its more extensive forms Alopecia Totalis and Universalis.
In an interview with MedicalResearch.com, Epidemiologist, Isabelle Vallerand, PhD of the Cumming School of Medicine at Canada's University of Calgary, explores this theory in more depth following an in-depth study.
Dr. Vallerand told the publication, "...there has actually been very little research investigating the role that mental health may have on development of alopecia areata."
"Interestingly, depression has recently been associated with increased systemic inflammatory markers, so there is biologic plausibility that depression could increase the risk of alopecia areata."
In order to investigate this theory, Dr, Vallerand and a team from various departments of the Cumming School of Medicine carried out a study entitled Assessment of a Bidirectional Association Between Major Depressive Disorder and Alopecia Areata. This was published on 16th January 2018 in the JAMA Dermatology journal.
The researchers studied a population-level health records database containing over 6 million patients' information, with up to 26 years of follow-up.
The large scale of the data allowed the team to draw significant conclusions; most potentially astonishing is that patients with a major depressive disorder had a 90 per cent greater risk of developing Alopecia Areata than those without.
Furthermore, based on those whose depression was being treated using anti-depressants, figures showed the medication appeared to prevent Alopecia Areata hair loss from occurring, having what researchers dubbed a "protective effect on this risk".
In conclusion, the Canadian doctors advise that, when it comes to Alopecia Areata and mental health, the effects can indeed go both ways: "Alopecia areata can affect mental health, and in turn mental illness can affect the underlying inflammatory and genetic susceptibilities between the brain and skin..."
Study authors advise this needs further investigation with Dr. Vallerand saying, "Future research should aim to examine whether having depression alters the course of disease for people who already have alopecia areata. It will also be important to focus future research on a molecular level to identify the mechanism by which depression increases the risk of alopecia areata."
Whilst there are Alopecia Areata treatment options for adults with the scalp-only form of this disorder, the only currently-available hair loss solutions in the more extreme cases - for now - generally revolve around head coverings such as wigs and scarves.
In all instances, however, it can still be tough to come to terms with such sudden hair loss. One course of action that can be beneficial to people with either Alopecia Areata or depression - or both - is to speak to a counsellor for psychotherapy.
This can help people to cope with the psychological effects of losing your hair, whilst the physical effects can be addressed with the help of hair loss specialists, dermatologists or dedicated charities.
Alopecia UK offers helpful advice and peer support groups, as well as many recommendations for wig suppliers, whilst Little Princess Trust and Hero by LPT offer real hair wigs free of charge to children and young adults with medical hair loss conditions, including all forms of autoimmune alopecia.
The Belgravia Centre is a world-renowned group of a hair loss clinic in Central London, UK. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation from anywhere in the world for home-use treatment.
View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world's largest gallery of hair growth photos and demonstrates the level of success that so many of Belgravia's patients achieve.