Hair loss in women or female pattern baldness can have devastating psychological effects on sufferers, two Monash University researchers have found.
But a new group therapy program Halo (short for hair loss) developed by lecturer in Behavioural Studies Dr Francesca Collins and Monash honorary research associate Ms Sebastiana Biondo, has achieved positive outcomes in dealing with the psychological effects of hair loss.
Female pattern hair loss (an overall thinning that maintains the normal hairline) affects between 20 and 50 per cent of Australian women, with one in five women over the age of 30 and one in two women aged 60 or more suffering from the condition.
The Halo program is designed for adult women who have been diagnosed with female pattern hair loss and who are receiving, or waiting to receive, medical treatment for the condition. Around 20 women have taken part in the 8-week program, first conducted at the Alfred Hospital in 2004.
An evaluation of the program's impact on patients' psychological issues – including self-esteem, body image, self-confidence, relationships, anxiety and depression relating to hair loss ? quality of life and treatment will be presented today at the annual Australian Psychological Society conference in Melbourne.
There has been little Australian research on the psychological effects of female hair loss. In 2002, Ms Biondo undertook the first Australian study that explored the quality of life and psychological impact in women with hereditary hair loss. From this study she developed the Halo program with Dr Collins, and Rodney Sinclair, Professor of Dermatology at the University of Melbourne.
"Most women diagnosed with female pattern hair loss are stunned to discover that the condition exists, that they have it, and that so many women are affected by it," Ms Biondo said. "This lack of awareness and understanding is also not limited to the general public – many hair and health professionals are unaware of how common the condition is and how distressing it is for sufferers. There is also a lack of reliable patient-friendly information available regarding the condition.
"The Halo program is all about training women to feel confident, empowering them to communicate with their doctors, as well as developing relaxation strategies and providing information on medical treatment options available."
Dr Collins said most people didn't realise the anxiety, grief and sense of helplessness associated with the slow, progressive condition. "Many women don't go out, became anxious or depressed, preferring to hide the condition because of a sense of embarrassment," she said. "They also don't feel confident about asking a doctor about the condition or possible treatments. By the time they do something months and sometimes years may have passed before any treatment is started."