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Can depression cause hair loss?

Can depression cause hair loss?

Reviewed by:
Austin Lin, MD
View bio
June 22, 2024
Original source:

Key takeaways

  • Hair loss can have psychological effects on someone, impact your sense of self-identity, and leading to depression.
  • Clinical depression can have physical impact on our bodies, which in some cases can cause someone to lose hair.
  • It’s always important to rule out potential medical causes in addition to seeing if mental health factors are contributing

In this article

Anyone who’s struggled with depression will tell you it’s so much more than just a low mood. It’s also a lack of motivation, feelings of worthlessness, trouble concentrating, and a slew of other symptoms and experiences that don’t necessarily seem like they’d be related to depression–– such losing hair.

Although this isn’t always common, some people do experience this phenomenon. Additionally, it’s possible for hair loss to cause emotional distress, leading to or contributing to major depression.  

Read on to learn about the link between depression and hair loss.  

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Can depression cause hair loss?

Yes, it’s possible for depression to lead indirectly to hair loss. Since depression affects your physical health, it can impact body functions like your hair growth cycle, resulting in hair thinning and slower regrowth.

Here are a few physiological mechanisms through which depression can contribute to hair loss:  

  • Increased stress hormones: Depression, commonly related to chronic stress, is linked to high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Research shows that excess cortisol and high stress can negatively impact the hair growth cycle, impacting the hair follicles and growth.  
  • Nutritional deficiencies: Since depression can cause loss of appetite and changes to food intake, some depressed people experience nutritional deficiencies. In some cases, deficiencies can even contribute to depression. Regardless, lacking vitamins and minerals can contribute to hair shedding and decreased hair growth.  
  • Antidepressant side effects: If you take antidepressants to help your depression symptoms, it’s possible—although rare—that the medication could be one of the culprits contributing to hair loss. Although it isn’t a common side effect, some research points to antidepressants affecting your hair, with Wellbutrin (bupropion) posing the highest relative risk of hair loss. Even if you think your antidepressant could be causing this side effect, don’t stop taking the medication without consulting your doctor first.
  • Inflammation and immune system dysregulation: Depression is linked to inflammation in the body, and there’s also a connection between inflammation and certain types of hair loss. Immune system dysregulation is often linked to inflammation, too.  

If you’re struggling with depression and hair loss, it’s likely that multiple of these factors are contributing to the problem. You may also want to see a doctor to rule out any physical causes of hair loss, making sure that depression is, in fact, what’s causing your hair to fall out and nor hormonal imbalance or something else..  

How else does depression affect your body?

There’s an undeniable mind-body connection when it comes to depression. This mental health condition can lead to various other physical symptoms.  

Examples of ways that depression can manifest physically include:  

  • Unexplained aches and pains, or worsening of pre-existing chronic pain
  • Headaches
  • Digestive problems
  • Lack of energy
  • Changes to appetite (loss of appetite or increased appetite)
  • Changes to weight (weight loss or weight gain)
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • Sleeping excessively  

Additionally, atypical depression results in the physical symptom of “leaden paralysis,” which is when your arms and/or legs feel heavy. It also can include significant weight gain and hypersomnia.

While depression can certainly cause all these symptoms, it’s important to check with your doctor if you experience any new physical symptoms just to rule out anything else.  

Can hair loss cause depression?

On top of depression leading to hair loss, the opposite can also be true. Losing hair can take a toll on your mental well-being, potentially leading to or increasing feelings of depression. Here are a few contributing factors:

  • Changes to self-perception: Many people struggling with hair thinning or hair loss experience self-consciousness, leading to lower self-esteem overall. In a society focused on youth, attractiveness, and “perfection,” hair loss can cause people to worry that they aren’t as good-looking or desirable as before.  
  • Social anxiety and withdrawal: Due to self-consciousness about their appearance, many people with hair loss experience newfound social anxiety, and they might even withdraw from friends or avoid social situations where people might notice their hair loss.
  • Challenges in personal and professional relationships: A combination of low self-esteem and social anxiety can make people with hair loss struggle to feel comfortable in their relationships, whether that’s friendships, romantic relationships, or professional colleagues.  
  • Feelings of loss of control: Depression is commonly linked to feelings of helplessness. Some people with hair loss might feel helpless, like they have no control over the hair loss, not knowing how bad it will get.

Learn more about what depression feels like.

If your primary issue is hair loss, and the constant hair-shedding or bald patches are causing you to become depressed, you can look into oral medications like finasteride, topical medications like minoxidil, or even supplements for better hair health.  

A dermatologist can help determine the most effective treatment for your specific cause of hair loss if it’s due to a medical reason rather than stress-related hair loss. There are various types of hair loss and different causes. Hair loss is also associated with thyroid problems, low testosterone, male pattern baldness, and more, which also can contribute to depression/anxiety, so it is important to have your whole health (physical and mental)  evaluated.  

Treatments for depression-related hair loss

When you’re trying to treat hair loss related to depression, it’s important to treat the depression–– the underlying root cause of the hair loss. If you just try to treat the hair loss itself, you won’t be getting to the bottom of the problem, and you’ll likely continue to experience further hair loss.

If your mental health is taking a toll on your physical health, day-to-day functioning, and quality of life, it’s time to seek professional help.

A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist, can confirm a diagnosis of depression and help you get on the right path to feeling better. A combination of talk therapy (such as cognitive behavioral therapy) and psychiatric medication, such as an antidepressant, is typically most effective for treating depression.  

Examples of depression treatment options include:

  • SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors)
  • SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors)
  • Atypical antidepressants
  • TCAs (tricyclic antidepressants)
  • MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors)

Self-care, lifestyle-changes, managing stress levels, and tending to your overall physical health are also extremely important in the depression recovery process.  

If you’re looking for a psychiatrist to prescribe medication for your depression, consider Talkiatry.  

We’re a national psychiatry practice that treats a variety of mental health conditions, including major depressive disorder and co-occurring conditions. We provide virtual, in-network services so you can get the care you need from the comfort of your home. To get started, complete our free online assessment to get matched with a psychiatrist.  

The information in this article is for education and informational purposes only and should never be substituted for medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. If you or someone you know may be in danger, call 911 or the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988 right away.

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How does Talkiatry compare to face-to-face treatment?

For most patients, Talkiatry treatment is just as effective as in-person psychiatry (American Psychiatric Association, 2021), and much more convenient. That said, we don’t currently provide treatment for schizophrenia, primary eating disorder treatment, or Medication Assisted Treatment for substance use disorders.

What kind of treatment does Talkiatry provide?

At Talkiatry, we specialize in psychiatry, meaning the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. Your psychiatrist will meet with you virtually on a schedule you set together, devise a treatment plan tailored to your specific needs and preferences, and work with you to adjust your plan as you meet your goals.

If your treatment plan includes medication, your psychiatrist will prescribe and manage it. If needed, your psychiatrist can also refer you to a Talkiatry therapist.

What's the difference between a therapist and psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are doctors who have specialized training in diagnosing and treating complex mental health conditions through medication management. If you are experiencing symptoms of a mental health condition such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or similar, a psychiatrist may be a good place to start.  

Other signs that you should see a psychiatrist include:  

  • Your primary care doctor or another doctor thinks you may benefit from the services of a psychiatrist and provides a referral    
  • You are interested in taking medication to treat a mental health condition  
  • Your symptoms are severe enough to regularly interfere with your everyday life

The term “therapist” can apply to a range of professionals including social workers, mental health counselors, psychologists, professional counselors, marriage and family therapists, and psychoanalysts. Working with a therapist generally involves regular talk therapy sessions where you discuss your feelings, problem-solving strategies, and coping mechanisms to help with your condition.

Who can prescribe medication?

All our psychiatrists (and all psychiatrists in general) are medical doctors with additional training in mental health. They can prescribe any medication they think can help their patients. In order to find out which medications might be appropriate, they need to conduct a full evaluation. At Talkiatry, first visits are generally scheduled for 60 minutes or more to give your psychiatrist time to learn about you, work on a treatment plan, and discuss any medications that might be included.

Austin Lin, MD

Dr. Austin Lin is a double board-certified adult and addiction psychiatrist who has been in practice for over 9 years. At the center of Dr. Lin’s clinical approach is a strong emphasis on establishing trust and using a collaborative approach to help patients develop an individualized and cohesive plan so that they are able to achieve their goals.

Dr. Lin's practice focuses on medication management. Typically, he offers this in conjunction with supportive therapy, motivational interviewing, and/or cognitive behavioral therapy in 30-minute follow-up visits. Occasionally, Dr. Lin may recommend that additional therapy is needed and ask that you bring a therapist into your care team in order to provide the best outcome.

Dr. Lin received his medical degree from St. George’s University School of Medicine. He went on to complete his residency in psychiatry at Harvard South Shore, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, where he served as Chief Resident and earned his 360° Professionalism award. He then had additional training in Addiction Psychiatry through his fellowship at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. After completing training, Dr. Lin has worked as an Addiction Psychiatrist and Director of Adult Services in the Trauma and Resilience Center (TRC) at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). He specialized in treating patients with a history of depression, anxiety, trauma, and substance use disorders.

Dr. Lin has held an academic appointment at UTHealth, and he has spent his professional career supervising and teaching medical students and psychiatry residents.

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