Being Bald Can Have A Severe Impact On Mental Health
It was only after I instructed the barber for a ‘number one all over’, that I realised how significant the moment really was.
I never honestly thought that I would have to make the decision to shave my hair off at the age of 27. That was something that middle-aged men did in respectful deference to time, an acceptable price to pay for the mercurial wisdom of life experience.
Yet there I sat, asking the pristinely-coiffured Turkish man for what was to be the first of many of these haircuts – his brief pause, a raise of the eyebrow and nod of acknowledgement showed me he understood the magnitude of what was about to happen.
Despite being a common condition in men – as many as 30 per cent experience male pattern baldness by the age of 30, a number which jumps to 50 per cent at the age of 50 – hair loss can be a traumatic, and potentially expensive experience.
From conversations with my friends and family, I remember the words ‘just shave it off’ were banded-about frequently. I knew they were right, but on reflection it was easier said than done.
As someone who finally succumbed to the shave, I wanted to find out how much of an issue this was for young men, and why.
Explained simply, hair loss is caused by an over-sensitivity in hair follicles to a hormone known as dihydrotestosterone (DHT) – which the body makes from the male hormone testosterone.
While this is the main cause, other factors can include: extreme stress, trauma and anxiety of various forms. This often presents a Catch-22, where the stress caused by hair loss can itself lead to further hair loss.
Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM), the men’s mental health charity, acknowledges that hair loss is a common issue presented to them. This has prompted them to dedicate an entire section of their website to giving advice on the topic.
Stock photo posed by model
They say that while many men are unaffected by their own hair loss, others can suffer ‘great emotional distress’, which can be compounded by any existing depression or self-esteem issues. Given that there is a genetic element to baldness, those afflicted often describe an inescapable feeling of helplessness.
Despite this, CALM say:
It may be worth mentioning that baldness and higher levels of testosterone are also linked to higher fertility and virility in men, so there are plus sides!
‘Tressless’ is a Reddit-based support group for those coping with hair loss and its many members were quick to give an insight into their experiences.
David*, 22, is a college student who lost his hair shortly after high school. He says the loss has affected him fundamentally: “In my opinion hair loss is worse than cancer, it is the death of the person you once were.”
Such statements show how important it is not to underestimate the impact of hair loss, especially in younger men.
Naturally, there are other members for whom the issue is not so serious. Adam* says he views having a full head of hair in the same light as being able to wear designer clothes. He explains: “I enjoy it but the world won’t end just because I’ll have to be bald.”
Hair transplants, like those made famous by Manchester United star Wayne Rooney, are often financially prohibitive – procedures cost around £6,000 on average – but many men are choosing a surgical option.
Dr William Rassman, a world-leading hair surgery specialist and founder of the New Hair Institute in Los Angeles, says that despite the cost, modern procedures and treatments are more likely than ever to be successful.
In his experience, the younger his clients, the more traumatised they are by the issue of hair loss.
According to him:
I think it’s all about perception. The younger you are, the more influenced you are by the nightmares of imagination.
When you get older, you can be very logical because the pre-frontal lobe in the brain develops at around 23-24 years, but prior to that age you don’t have a good handle on things – you’re terribly emotionally driven.
Dr Rassman also has an anthropological explanation for the expected societal perceptions of bald men:
You have to recognise, and go back about four thousand years of world history, and the eunuchs back in Egyptian times. Their testicles were cut off, and their heads were shaved.
They believed there was some kind of correlation between your testicles (or a lack thereof) and a shaved head – which wasn’t true.
Given that baldness and high testosterone levels, in fact, mean quite the opposite, there seems to be a generalised cognitive dissonance regarding hair loss.
This goes some way in explaining why the idea of losing one’s hair is such a terrifying concept for many young men. Simply put, the fear of losing your hair is driven by two of the most primal of urges: procreation and the concept of masculinity.
As Dr Rassman puts it: “Without being too crass, young men have two focuses in their lives – their penises and their hair.”
Happily, there is still hope for those of us follicly challenged souls who desire a buoyant head of hair, and it comes in the form of a nonsurgical hair piece from Surrey-based Quiff & Co.
Antony Llewellyn, co-owner of the company, says interest boomed after a video showing his partner Stevie demonstrating their product went viral on social media, prompting them to turn over a million pounds in a week.
Despite a successful marketing campaign, Antony credits a lot of the success to the pair’s acute awareness of the emotional impact of hair loss, having experienced it firsthand.
“He [Stevie] initially experienced hair loss at the age of sixteen or seventeen and by nineteen, he had lost lots of hair,” Antony says.
As a result, he says the pair have been keen to maintain a sympathetic and personal approach to their customers. “We know that our clients’ desire for our product comes from anxiety, an emotional place”, he added. “Most clients have already had hair transplants that they aren’t happy with – so they’re emotionally charged.”
With gigantic turnover and a waiting-list for consultations running well into 2018, the pair’s success is a clear indication as to the willingness to try new solutions to hair loss.
But for many of us, living payday-to-payday, forking out upwards of a thousand pounds for treatment is simply not possible.
At the same time, budgets for mental health trusts in the UK are being cut, with 40 per cent of trusts reporting cuts in government funding in 2015-16. The result, especially for young men, is that for many the only option is to ‘brave the shave’, which, admittedly, may not be as bad as first thought.
And as it happens, there are quite a few advantages to being bald, the first and foremost of which is not having to worry about the looming loss of hair.
The link between stress and many mental and physical conditions is well known. So, the idea of not having to worry about your hair being healthy – because it’s already gone – is entirely with merit.
There are well known and accepted health benefits of being bald, primarily a higher level of testosterone. Studies have shown that high testosterone levels are linked with higher virility, muscle development and maintaining a healthy weight.
While there are more spurious claims about reducing the risk of cancer, there is certainly a financial case for being bald. With fancy pomades and hair gunk costing the best part of twenty quid, the money saved can go towards a new selection of hats. All the hats
*Names of Reddit users have been altered to protect anonymity.
If you’re suffering with any issues of anxiety or depression relating to hair loss, CALM have some great advice on their website.
You can also call them confidentially on 0800 58 58 58.