BENGALURU: Baldness, especially male pattern hair loss, has been the topic of interest in social sphere lately, drawing the attention of story tellers in regional and national film industries. But the eyes capture most what is exterior and thus the skin, hair, facial features, eyes, etc dominate the human mind and determines the understanding of one’s own self and social standing.But in general, any dermatological disorder that is cosmetically disfiguring, like psoriasis, atopic dermatitis, urticaria, alopecia areata, acne etc, can be associated with significant psychological implications. Among them, baldness is one of the most
frequently identified dermatological condition with profound level of psychological consequences.
People whose appearance deviates from the norm have a major acute sense of awareness of their own bodies due to the associated pressure to comply with social standards. This pressure has personal and social implications such as affecting relationships, quality of life, expectations, career aspirations, personal life etc.
People with dermatological conditions often claim that their main difficulties arise from other’s reactions to their disease rather than the disease itself. Dermatological conditions have often been associated with myths surrounding lack of hygiene and contagion that can influence others to act negatively towards the sufferer. When there is an insult to one’s ‘normal’ sense of self which falls short of the ‘ideal’ self, feelings of shame often ensues. Thoughts and concerns about the dermatological conditions are often displaced onto the self as a whole and patients often form the belief: ‘baldness is ugly, I am bald therefore I am ugly.’
The rate and prevalence of baldness is ever increasing with up to 30 per cent of men aged less than 30 years experiencing male pattern hair loss. Thus more and more younger men are experiencing thinning of hair very early in their life.
Common psychological consequences of baldness are depression, anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, shame, guilt, anger, frustration, poor quality of life, suicidal ideation and social phobia. The male pattern hair loss can result in a huge loss of self esteem resulting in significant impairment in socialising patterns and avoidance behaviors, feelings of negative self, work place difficulties, substance use behaviors etc.
Along with it, most men believe being bald would make them unattractive and would make it difficult to attract a sexual partner. This belief is firmly inculcated at multiple levels be it among peer groups bullying about hair loss or at social circles identifying with their physical attributes in a negative way, by medium of advertisements showing a woman expressing her love interest by running her fingers through a man’s hair/ hairy men to be manly and masculine or finally at movies stereotyping the roles of a villain or a comedian to a bald guy.
There are many platforms offering magical fix to this problems be it through medications, hair transplant procedures, artificial wigs etc. But it is important to remember that the solutions may not be the same with every individual undergoing same intervention and the results would vary between imagined and perceived results. Thus, it is important to identify and understand how to deal with the disturbing thoughts of going bald and the associated shame with the disturbing emotions it evokes. It is important to let the feelings of shame pass without internalising them. It is necessary for individuals to accept the changes associated with aging as a part of process and reinvent themselves not by the eyes of physical appearance/or by societal acceptance of their appearance but a sum of their own self concept.
The authors are consultant psychiatrist, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road Bangalore and consultant clinical psychologist, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bangalore, respectively