Depression often involves emotional distress along with physical symptoms: fatigue, aches and pains, and digestive problems, just to name a few.
If you’re experiencing symptoms of depression, and you’ve also noticed some hair loss, you might wonder whether it’s just another sign or side effect of depression.
While experts haven’t found evidence to suggest depression directly causes hair loss, depression may have a more indirect role in thinning hair. And, of course, a sudden or significant increase in hair shedding can easily create a new source of stress or worsen an already low mood.
Below, we’ll cover the connection between hair loss and depression, explore other common causes of hair loss, and offer some guidance on getting support.
Experts have found some evidence to suggest certain depression symptoms may be linked to hair loss.
A 2012 study explored possible links between hair loss and depression symptoms in 157 women of various ages seeking treatment at a dermatology clinic.
The researchers asked questions about:
- hair type
- hair color
- shampooing, brushing or combing, and hair coloring frequency
- current medications
- underlying health conditions associated with hair loss
- depression symptoms
- personal relationships
Of the women interviewed, 54 percent said they experienced hair loss. While 29 percent of the women reported two or more symptoms of depression, 38 percent of the women experiencing hair loss also had at least two key depression symptoms:
- a persistent low or sad mood
- decreased interest and enjoyment of regular activities and daily life
- fatigue and low energy
Study authors also noted that women in their 20s and 30s were more likely to experience symptoms of both depression and hair loss.
The study didn’t determine that depression actually caused the hair loss, however. The researchers also didn’t rule out all possible medical causes of hair loss. Still, the results suggested that changes in mood, such as depression, may be linked to hair loss.
The role of stress
Triggers might include:
- job loss
- death of a loved one
- work stress
- relationship or family problems
- chronic or serious health conditions
If you find it difficult to navigate and cope with these stressors, emotional distress can worsen and eventually contribute to depression.
The authors of the study above also noted that women who reported hair loss were more likely to not only have not depression symptoms, but also relationship issues — often a significant source of stress.
Many people also notice increased hair loss a few weeks or months after giving birth. Hair loss is very common after childbirth, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Your hair will most likely begin growing at its regular rate within several months to a year.
Still, however excited or delighted you feel about your new baby, childbirth can certainly be a stressful life event.
You might also wonder whether depression plays a part in hair loss if you’ve noticed symptoms of postpartum depression.
Whether you’re experiencing ordinary stress as you adjust to the addition of a newborn or postpartum depression, a therapist can offer support and help you explore helpful treatments.
What about birth control pills?
If you begin feeling depressed while taking birth control pills, you can talk with your prescribing physician about stopping the pills to help improve your mood. As your body adjusts to the change in hormones, you might start noticing some extra shedding or thinning of your hair.
While it’s not always easy to identify the specific cause of hair loss, it’s most likely the hormone imbalance that’s responsible here. Usually, this type of hair loss is temporary.
Some recent research also suggests certain antidepressants could raise your chance of hair loss.
Bupropion (Wellbutrin, Aplenzin) was associated with the highest risk of hair loss, while paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva) seemed to have the lowest risk.
This study also mentioned that sertraline (Zoloft) was prescribed more often than other antidepressants. This finding is worth noting because a handful of case studies, including research from 2016,
Researchers note that hair loss isn’t necessarily a common side effect of depression medications. Still, it could be a factor worth considering, especially when you’ve ruled out most other causes.
Hair loss can have quite a few causes.
Common ones to consider include:
- hereditary pattern baldness, which can affect people of any gender
- the process of aging
- hormone changes related to pregnancy or menopause
- stress or trauma, including illness and surgery
- certain medications
- weight loss
- nutrition deficiency
- tight hairstyles
This can lead to symptoms that resemble depression symptoms, including:
- energy loss
- weight gain
- trouble processing or remembering information
In short, while it’s possible to have both a thyroid condition and depression, you might also experience hair loss and depression-like symptoms because of hypothyroidism.
It’s always best to talk with a dermatologist or other healthcare professional about any hair loss that concerns you.
Even if you have symptoms of depression, hair loss often happens for other reasons. Without the right treatment, you could keep losing hair.
Since significant hair loss can cause stress and contribute to a low mood, it could even be the case that consistent hair loss is fueling feelings of depression, rather than the reverse.
It’s best to connect with a professional if you notice:
- bloating or changes in weight
- trouble with memory and thinking
- sleep problems
- restlessness, nervousness, or irritability
- brittle nails or hair
- dry or thin skin
- muscle weakness
- patches of itchy or scaly skin, especially on your scalp
- hair loss across your body
- clumps of hair on your pillow or in your drain, brush, or comb
- bald patches
On the other hand, persistent hair shedding or loss that you can’t trace back to any physical health concern could have an underlying mental health cause.
If you believe your hair loss relates to mental health symptoms, such as depression, stress, or anxiety, connecting with a mental health professional is a good next step.
A therapist can:
- offer support with addressing and working through emotional distress
- teach healthy coping strategies for depression
- offer guidance on self-care practices that can help ease symptoms
In some cases, your therapist might also help you identify and address specific symptoms that might relate to hair loss.
- You’ve noticed some weight loss, because you can’t find the energy to eat regular meals.
- Your feelings of depression were triggered by an unexpected (and distressingly lengthy) breakup.
- Concerns about finding work after losing your job leave you feeling anxious and hopeless.
Any increased or ongoing stress in your life could potentially contribute to depression. But hair loss related to mental health conditions will generally improve with the right kind of support.
It’s a good idea to reach out right away when you:
- feel depressed more days than not
- notice changes in your relationships or day-to-day function
- find it hard to take part in self-care activities or daily tasks and responsibilities
- have regular urges to pull out your hair, eyelashes, and eyebrows
- have thoughts of suicide or self-harm
Already getting support for depression? If you notice some improvement in your depression symptoms, your hair loss may relate to something else entirely. All the same, it’s worth mentioning increased hair loss to your therapist or healthcare professional, so you can explore alternate approaches to treatment.
If you’re taking an antidepressant linked to hair loss, it may be possible to try a lower dose or a different medication entirely. Just make sure to take your medication as directed until your doctor or psychiatrist tells you otherwise.
Research has yet to find conclusive support for depression as a direct cause of hair loss.
That said, depression, stress, and other mental health conditions often have a far-reaching health impact. Many experts agree mood symptoms and emotional distress could play a part in thinning hair.
However, stress-related hair loss typically isn’t permanent. So, getting support for depression could help promote hair health and growth along with improved well-being.
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