Can Depression Cause Hair Loss?
Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Have you ever felt so down that you couldn’t find the energy to get out of bed? Depression may be a mental illness, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be felt physically as well. You may even wonder — as weird as it might seem — if depression can cause hair loss.
Depression sufferers know that being depressed for any length of time is awful enough, but when combined with other factors in our lives, it can have a greater impact on our bodies than we might expect. And that can include hair growth.
Whether depression is mild or severe, there is indeed evidence that it can affect hair growth and cause hair loss.
And what’s worse, both the physical and psychological effects of clinical depression may increase your risk of hair loss (as may the effects of other mental health conditions, for that matter).
Management of hair health in the context of clinical depression isn't impossible, though.
To understand and ultimately manage depression's role in hair loss, it's important to understand that depression has a larger psychological impact and physical toll on your body than just feeling sad.
Read on to learn more about depression — and how it can relate to hair loss.
Depression 101: What You Need to Know
Depression is a mental disorder that severely impacts your ability to handle day-to-day life in a positive, healthy way. It can form in response to the stress of other illnesses, or even emerge as a side effect of medication that you’re taking.
Here are some of the most common forms of depression:
A case of the blues gets upgraded to a status of major depression when it has impacted your ability to sleep, eat, or work for at least two weeks.
Persistent Depressive Disorder
Persistent depressive disorder may be less severe than major depression, but it has staying power, with symptoms lasting at least two years.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Seasonal affective disorder is typically felt in the fall and winter months when temperatures get colder and daylight hours grow shorter. It ends with the arrival of spring and summer.
Depression with Symptoms of Psychosis
This is the most severe form of depression, in which a person simultaneously experiences symptoms of psychosis, such as hallucinations or delusions.
Symptoms of Depression
A person with depression can experience symptoms mentally or physically, and to varying degrees of severity.
Mental depressive symptoms may include feelings of sadness, emptiness, frustration or helplessness. A person may lose interest in activities or hobbies they previously enjoyed, or begin to perceive themselves negatively, leading to feelings of guilt or worthlessness.
Physically, a person may have difficulty concentrating or sleeping well, resulting in memory issues and chronic fatigue. They may also lose their appetite, gain or lose weight, and can even manifest their mental illness in mysterious aches, headaches, or digestive problems that do not ease with treatment.
When enough of these symptoms are experienced simultaneously for a prolonged period of time, a person may even contemplate or attempt suicide. It’s essential to identify signs of depression early and take steps toward treatment.
What Depression Can Do to Your Body
Scientists are exploring the relationship between depression and other physical illnesses. Research suggests that people with depression are more likely to experience cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stroke, chronic pain or Alzheimer’s disease.
These increased risks could be attributed to the fact that people with depression may also commonly experience poor access to healthcare. As part of their depression, they may also lack the energy or motivation to take necessary steps to safeguard their physical health.
The links between depression and physical illnesses are not just circumstantial. Depression has been directly connected to certain physiological anomalies, including increased inflammation, alterations in your heart rate and blood circulation, abnormalities in stress hormones and changes to your body’s metabolism.
Can Depression Cause Hair Loss?
We’ve established that depression can have an impact on the body, but what about your hair? There might be a link. One study of adult female dermatology patients demonstrated that of the 54% reporting hair loss, 29% also experienced at least two key symptoms of depression.
You could infer that if it happened this way for the ladies, depression could also happen for you.
Being depressed for a sustained period of time may cause high levels of stress, which in turn could lead to several types of hair loss.
If your stress levels increase enough, your body may place your hair follicles into a resting period of the hair growth cycle. Those hairs then have a greater chance of falling out when combing or washing your hair.
Depression can come with feelings of frustration or anxiety that don’t have an outlet. People with depression may develop trichotillomania which is a compulsive urge to pull hair from all over the body.
With depression and stress one may attempt to alleviate those feelings by forcefully pulling out their own hair.
Trichotillomania can be triggered by stressful life events.
Severe stress is one of several potential causes of alopecia areata, a state in which your body’s immune system attacks hair follicles, inducing loss of hair.
Hormonal imbalances, often linked with depression, are another potential source of thinning hair and hair loss. Cancer or STIs such as syphilis can cause you to lose your hair, and are also sources of stress and depression, compounding the potential for hair loss.
Unfortunately, medications used to treat depression could inadvertently make you shed hair, too. Prozac and Bupropion, two of the most common medications to treat depression, have been shown in studies to cause hair loss.
Depression and stress, along with other environmental factors and genetics can all play a role when it comes to hair loss. Luckily, there are things you can do to mitigate stress, treat depression, and help your hair resume a healthy growth cycle.
Depression and Hair Loss: What to Do
Depression has many potential treatment options; it just takes getting started to find the right treatment options for you.
The most popular and effective treatments take the forms of medication, therapy, and/or lifestyle changes, and the best place to learn more about these treatment options is from a healthcare provider.
Healthcare professionals will also be able to spot another medical condition if there’s an underlying cause for your hair loss, and point you toward treatments, and depending on the kind of hair loss you’re experiencing, there may be many ways to treat your hair loss, too.
Contact a healthcare professional to learn more. Your health is worth taking action. Your head will thank you later — inside and out.