29/11/2012 10:22 GMT | Updated 28/01/2013 05:12 GMT

Hair Loss is Traumatic: But Celebs Are Advancing the Cause of Treatment

HAIR loss is traumatic.

Ask anyone who's experienced thinning hair or receding temples or crown.

Men and women alike, although it is mainly men who suffer, go through a series of psychological stages when their hair thins.

Broadly speaking these can be characterised thus: Shock - Denial - Anger - Depression - Acceptance, not dissimilar to any other life-changing episode.

Some sufferers, more all the time, are seeking treatment and happily this can have a major impact on retaining existing follicles.

I've written before about the changing attitudes in society towards baldness. It is an issue we should all be aware of. And even though men are the main sufferers, it's not exclusively a male issue. It was reported recently that half of women will experience some hair thinning by the age of 40, three-quarters by the time they are 65.

I won't repeat myself, but it is only in recent years that treatment and prevention - namely hair transplants and prescription drugs - have become widely available and socially acceptable.

Yet even now, young celebrities in particular who opt for treatment find themselves singled out for derision. I'm thinking of, among others, Calum Best (my patient) and Wayne Rooney (not my patient). Wayne, in particular, has suffered more than most for wanting to save his hair.

Thankfully, in putting his head above the parapet, metaphorically and literally, he's advanced public awareness of hair transplant surgery.

But the trauma of hair loss, and the impact it can have on other unconnected aspects of a person's life, confidence, self-worth, and so on, is not a new issue.

A few years ago former Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and one-time party leadership contender Mark Oaten, then a rising political star, was mired in a sex scandal.

I hope Mr Oaten will forgive me retelling his story here, after all it no doubt remains a source of regret and he has admirably moved on with his life and career.

But his response to a painful public experience was unorthodox, courageous even, and thus warrants retelling in the hope others may benefit.

Mr Oaten did not condemn the media, nor point to the pressures of life in the Westminister bubble, as he might reasonably have done and many before him have.

Instead, in an unusual and highly thought provoking response, he laid the blame for his behaviour squarely at the door of a mid-life crisis occasioned, he said, by the loss of his hair.

That's right, his hair.

Writing at the time in a compelling dispatch for the Sunday Times, Mr Oaten identified the loss of his hair as the trigger behind the increasing anxiety in his personal and professional life as an MP.

"Any television appearance would result in a barrage of emails, not about the issues I'd raised but about my lack of hair," he admitted.

"Whether supportive or not, they all asked what had happened to my hair."

He continued: "It's perhaps not surprising that I became more and more obsessed by its

disappearance. For me it was a public sign that my youth had ended."

Elected as a young MP with a floppy fringe, in just a few years his hair had receded dramatically around his temples and crown, necessitating a short crop all over.

Like many British men (an estimated quarter by the age of 30, and around two thirds by 60) he had suffered male pattern baldness.

Yet while Mr Oaten's public response might have been unorthodox for an MP, there was nothing odd about the feelings described therein.

For as I have outlined above, the loss of hair can be deeply traumatic. And trauma, however hard to gauge, can certainly influence both happiness and behaviour.

Thus, patently, the derision of those who seek treatment, especially if they are in the public sphere and therefore seen as fair game, is a ridiculous state of affairs.

Frankly, no one should underestimate the affect hairloss can have.

After all, would someone criticize if a person were having treatment for severe eczema, or another potentially disfiguring physical condition?

Of course not. So why do we allow baldness to be used in a pejorative sense?

'Baldy', 'slaphead', 'bone dome', harmless banter you might say, the language of the school yard. Maybe so, but also traumatic and bullying in some circumstances.

I'm not arguing in favour of political correctness. Just a greater understanding of the essential vulnerabilities we humans carry.

Self-confidence is of paramount important to well-being. And once that confidence goes, it can be hard to regain, leaving both professional and personal life badly exposed.

I have had patients who readily admit to worrying constantly about their thinning hair and tell me about the impact on their social lives: Innocent comments can be misinterpreted, the eyes of their friends seem drawn to their temples, everyone else has a full head of hair. Why not them? I don't exaggerate.

In a society where image has become so important, hair is crucial. And its loss can be devastating. Just ask Mr Oaten.