There are many things in life which are stressful, and no one would contest that being bullied can cause both emotional and physical stress. For many sufferers, bullying is hard to cope with and can manifest itself in different ways. Often, if people are being bullied, they can become withdrawn and lack self-confidence, but there are other external side effects that may be experienced too.
Take the example of Emma Nelson. Emma, now a 23-year old nurse, was bullied at secondary school, with her peers making fun of her ears, and cruelly nick-naming her ‘dumbo’.
Emma’s body responded to this in a way that she was not expecting – in dealing with the stress of the bullying, Emma’s hair fell out. This occurred in patches to begin with, but resulted in total baldness on her head. Eventually even her eyebrows and eyelashes fell out.
So why was Emma’s experience of bullying linked to hair loss?
What Emma was experiencing was a condition known as ‘alopecia areata’. This is an autoimmune condition, which means that it results from a malfunction in the body’s immune system.
The immune system is supposed to protect the body from illness and infection, but in the case of people who suffer from alopecia areata, the body mistakenly believes that the hair follicles are a risk to the body, so attacks them.
Alopecia areata usually has some form of trigger – and stress is one of the known triggers that causes the condition to flare up. The result is that hair will fall out, usually in patches over the head.
While this can be temporary for some, in other cases it can last for years, and in some cases can be permanent. In extreme cases, this can lead to a more serious condition called ‘alopecia totalis’ (total hair loss), which is what Emma’s condition eventually resulted in.
Other ways stress can be linked to hair loss
As well as being one of the known triggers for alopecia areata, stress is also known to cause a condition called ‘Telogen Effluvium‘ (often shortened to ‘TE’). Like alopecia areata, this condition cis usually temporary, but while suffers are experiencing it, then it can result in hair loss over the whole head.
In the case of people suffering from TE, stress causes conflicting signals between the brain and the hair follicle. Usually, hair grows in regular ‘growth’ and ‘rest’ phases, however, when stress is causing these signals to be confused, the body instructs hair follicles not to grow more hair, which is what results in baldness.