Jasmine Oguns’ life journey is an inspiration to many of us. Jasmine who is living with alopecia, shares her journey to becoming bald and experience on how she almost committed suicide in 2008 due to the side effects of wrong medications, stigma and discrimination.
Sharing her story, Jasmine said she had her hair full and intact when she was growing up. Her hair used to be very long during her primary and secondary school days.
But getting to the tertiary institution in 2004, something suddenly happened to her long and cherished hair as she noticed patches on her scalp when she visited the salon to make her hair. She became worried.
The patches progressed and was initially thought to be ringworm infection, it was later diagnosed as alopecia, or, simply put, hair loss, which she said was strange to her and her parents as they had never heard of such before. None of her family members also had the condition.
Managing the condition from 2004 to 2015 was a struggle, Jasmine narrated, as it impacted negatively on her mental health before she got a respite from a research that enlightened and made her to know that there are people living with alopecia and that it is not a death sentence.
Narrating the journey of her hair loss to PUNCH HealthWise, Jasmine said people who laugh at her do not know that she was born with hair, a long, healthy one at that.
“I was born with hair. I was not born with alopecia. Growing up as a child, my hair used to be very long. But sometime in 2004, I discovered a bald part on one side of my head when I went to make my hair.
“The stylist drew my attention to it. I thought it was a minor thing. But when I visited the salon the next time, I noticed another bald part. So, I became worried. Then, I was in my first year in school. When I got home and showed it to my mother, she, too, thought it was a minor thing — like ringworm.
“I started applying different things on my hair, while people also suggested various things for me to use.
“However, it got worse. I couldn’t go to the salon anymore, and I started making my hair myself. At a point, I could not braid my hair anymore, so I shaved it, believing it will grow back. But it did not.
“The balding started like the size of a coin, then it continued progressing and the balding patches were linking up. So, what was left didn’t make any sense and I had to shave the hair completely,”
We thought it was spiritual attack
Jasmine also revealed that her parents and family members thought the hair loss was caused by spiritual attack. Narrating further:
“The whole thing was strange to everyone. We were all worried, thinking it was spiritual attack. So, I was taken from one church to another for healing and even the pastors did not know what it was.
“Later, I met a dermatologist who diagnosed alopecia. That was in 2008 and he told me that it does not have a cure.
“But there were prescriptions of 50-50 chance for my hair to grow back. There was a medication that he placed me on; it cost N15,000 per can and I had to get a can every fortnight.
“So, between 2008 and 2011, I used the medication, but there was no improvement. I lost my eyebrows and eyelashes. At that point, everybody became more worried. But before the end of 2011, my lashes grew back but not completely.”
My mental health started diminishing
“I met another dermatologist who assured me that he could grow back my hair and that was what I wanted to hear. So, he started using all sorts of things to wash my hair, including izal, a disinfectant.
“These caused me serious pain. Worse still, the dermatologist also placed me on wrong medication. So, the drugs started affecting me mentally. I started having mood swing, I stopped going out.
“The side effects started affecting me badly in school. It got to a point that my mental health was diminishing and my memory was affected. So, it was a struggle for me to remember things. I told my parents that I was not going to take the medication again and will also not visit the dermatologist anymore.
“That was the end of my experience with the second dermatologist. Nothing happened, no progress on my hair at all. I almost had bipolar disorder as a result of the side effects of the drugs he prescribed for me,”
Jasmine said living with the condition also affected her relationship with people. Even till now, according to Jasmine, people still laugh at her. Continuing, she said,
“Back in school, there were people who laughed at me. Even till now, people still laugh at me. But back then, it was really bad.
“Some people called me an alien. They discussed me everywhere I went. So, I started using scarf to cover my hair but sometimes, some people will come from the back to remove it.
“Psychologically, it really affected my education because my final year was a struggle. I was surprised to have graduated without a problem.
“But deep inside me, it was a battle. I was the only one who knew I was fighting a battle. But it was more struggle for me during my second degree than the first degree.
“I studied Production and Operation Management at Kaduna State Polytechnic; and PGD in Management Information System at Kaduna State University.”
My fiancé’s mom cancelled our introduction
The Ondo State indigene further disclosed that living with alopecia had affected her relationship with the opposite sex.
“Sometime in 2011, I was engaged and was planning my wedding, I saw my would-be mother-in-law then as my mother.
“I decided to open up to her, though her son knew about it. I revealed to her during a chat that I did not have hair, as well as my experiences with dermatologists.
“She requested to see my mother and they both talked. My mother told her about my hair when I was growing up and how the whole thing happened. She told me that the discussion should be between her, my mother and myself.
“But I was shocked when one of my fiance’s siblings requested to go to the salon with me because I have a special way of making my hair.
“Three days to our wedding introduction, my fiancé’s mother called off the wedding for fear of the unknown, stating that the family didn’t want grandchildren that won’t have hair.
“The whole thing threw me off balance for a very long time; but, thank God I am fine. It did not affect my career. I have my own business and it is doing well,”
Jasmine described how she almost committed suicide in 2008. She affirmed,
“I have attempted suicide before. I was suicidal between 2008 and 2009. I know my mother will never forget that day. It was that bad. Now, we don’t use boiling ring in my family because that was what I used.
“If my mother hadn’t been at home, it would have been a different story. I could remember that water was boiling and I grabbed the boiling ring. That is all I could remember.
“The issue is, I was placed on wrong medication by the second dermatologist that I saw. So, the drugs affecting me mentally. The side effects affected my mental health and memory badly.”
Overcoming by the power of knowledge and information
Jasmine, who is the founder of Heroic Alopecian Foundation, described how she overcame the challenges.
“In 2015, I pulled myself together. I decided not to go and see any pastor. I decided to deal with it. I went online to read about it. I read about people with alopecia.
“I overcame alopecia in 2015 because I became more aware. I read about people with alopecia, what they had been through, even though they are not from Nigeria. That was where I got my peace from because I realised I was not alone.
“So, I told my mother that I will start opening my head and that I wanted to create awareness about it. I also established the Heroic Alopecia Foundation, which I have been using to raise awareness about the condition.
“We are 44 in number, out which 36 are Nigerians, while others are from other African countries and one from the US,”
World Mental Health Day
Speaking on the importance of World Mental Health Day while recalling her experience, Jasmine advised, “People should avoid wrong intervention and and seek help.”
World Mental Health Day is celebrated annually on October 10 to help raise mental health awareness and the theme for this year is, “Mental Health for All: Greater Investment – Greater Access.”
For those grappling with issues beyond them, Jasmine advised,
“Knowledge is power. People should research and read about issues they are grappling with. People should ask questions.
“Don’t just consume any substance given to you because you are eager to get well. They should try and rise above stigma and discrimination. For those who have alopecia, it is not a death sentence.”
On what causes alopecia, a Consultant Physician and Dermatologist at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital, Ikeja, Dr. Folakemi Cole-Adeife, told PUNCH HealthWise that there are different types of alopecia and that it could be caused by bacterial or fungal scalp infections.
Dr. Cole-Adeife explained,
“Alopecia simply means hair loss. There are several types of alopecia and each one has a different cause.
“Androgenic alopecia is the type that occurs mostly in males as they age. This is caused by the negative effect that male hormones (androgens or testosterone) have on the hair follicles over time.
“Alopecia areata is another type of alopecia that is characterised by patchy hair loss and it is caused by unknown disturbances in the immune system that makes a person’s immune system to attack the hair follicles from which hair grows.
“This results in patches of hair loss. When such hair loss involves the whole scalp, it is called alopecia totalis and when the hair loss further involves the whole body, including the eyebrows, armpits and pubic area, it is called alopecia universalis.”
The dermatologist said alopecia areata was quite common in Nigeria and could occur at any age and in any gender.
“However, when it becomes very widespread like in alopecia totalis or universalis, it is more resistant to treatment and usually causes a lot of psychological distress for those who have it.
“Traction alopecia is another common type of alopecia in our environment. Other common causes of alopecia include bacterial or fungal scalp infections, some chronic illnesses like lupus and chemotherapy,”
Dr. Cole-Adeife pointed out that the treatment given to someone living with alopecia depends on the underlying cause. She, however, added,
“Scarring alopecia cannot be cured but, in most cases, can be prevented from spreading further with appropriate diagnosis and treatment by a dermatologist.
“In the treatment of alopecia, medications can be given in either topical, oral or injectable forms to arrest or reverse hair loss.
“Furthermore, some forms of alopecia can be treated surgically, via hair transplant. For many cases of irreversible alopecia, wigs or hair pieces can be used to cover the hair loss effectively.”
According to her, most forms of alopecia affect the mental health of individuals living with it, particularly the more permanent types of alopecia, or those resistant to treatment.
“The hair is considered a significant part of one’s physical appearance and losing it can be quite traumatic psychologically.
“Alopecia often has a very negative impact on a person’s self-esteem and quality of life.
“It is important for a person with alopecia to seek the intervention of a specialist (a certified dermatologist) as early as possible, as there is a better chance of effective treatment in the early stages of the condition,”
How to overcome psychological distress associated with alopecia
A Consultant Psychiatrist at the Federal Neuropsychiatric Hospital Aro, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Dr. Abayomi Olajide, told PUNCH that living with alopecia comes with psychological distress.
“Alopecia can be very distressful and when it is sudden, it causes more distress to the mind and psyche.
“Also, when the area that is affected is extensive, that can also destabilise or cause psychological disturbance, especially for somebody who had not experienced it before,”
Dr. Olajide noted that there are lots of factors that could predict the psychological sequelling of this.
“It is usually experienced between 20-40 years. Others say it is between 20-30 years. That is why it is very devastating. Having alopecia is emotionally disturbing,”
While stressing that people living with alopecia require evaluation, the former Chairman of Nigerian Medical Association, Ogun State chapter, notes, however, that not everyone that has alopecia experiences psychological problems.
Listing the way forward on how people living with alopecia can overcome mental distress associated with the condition, the psychiatrist, said,
“Providing health education is very important. People need to understand the nature and type of alopecia that they have.
“Those with patchy types could have steroid treatment to help regenerate the hair. Those that cannot regenerate their hair may resort to wearing cap, hat, wig and by also embracing other lifestyle modifications.
“People need to be counselled. Alopecia is not the end of the world. You can live with it as long as you have good self confidence and self esteem.
“There is also need for support groups for people who have this experience to come together and share their experiences on how they dealt with stigma and discrimination so that they can offer real life practical solutions with their experiences.
“Alopecia should not be a factor for suicide. Suicide is a no-go area. It is something that should not cross their mind.
“The right thing to do is to seek help by talking to the right professionals for adequate counselling and enlightenment.
“In developed countries, people come out to disclose their status in terms of alopecia. In America, there over seven million people that have one form of alopecia or the other.
“We do not have the figures in Nigeria. But the more we talk about it, we educate people about it. There is no shame in it. We need to destigmatise alopecia.”