In a world where work and life stress can often become intolerable, people often find themselves looking for ways to lower anxiety and worry by indulging in a number of different behaviours. Some seek psychiatric help, while others go hell-for-leather in the gym. More often than not, however, individuals will develop coping mechanisms that are not entirely beneficial to their health including excessive drinking, drugs, or by carrying out personal rituals such as trichotillomania. But what is trichotillomania?
What is trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania – or trich for short – is a hair pulling disorder where an individual cannot resist the urge to pull their hair out – often to alleviate tension. This behaviour can easily become an obsession or addiction, and often leads to bald patches that can further lower the individual’s self-esteem.
In the vast majority of cases, trichotillomania sufferers are more likely to be either teenagers or young adults, and the condition does not necessarily involve the pulling of hair from the head but also other body hair such as leg hair, genital hair, as well as eyebrows and eyelashes.
Hair pulling disorders are more common than people think, and a large number of individuals carry out the behaviour without even realising they are using it as a coping mechanism. But where exactly does trichotillomania come from?
While the medical world is not entirely sure how the hair pulling disorder starts, doctors have been able to suggest a number of likelihoods:
- As many sufferers of trichotillomania are young, there is a strong belief that it is the production of certain hormones during puberty that initiates the condition.
- Similar to obsessive compulsive disorder, trichotillomania can be due to a chemical imbalance in the brain that shows no other symptoms.
- Some individuals can find the behaviour addictive, regardless of outside influence, and are unlikely to seek help until it is too late.
- In times of high stress and anxiety, people seek out ways to relax and comfort themselves, and for many, the pulling of hair becomes the physiological version of a stress-ball.
As many people start the behaviour off subconsciously, they are unlikely to be aware of the symptoms themselves, and so it can be up to family and friends to keep an eye out for signs of the hair pulling disorder.
- Sufferers are likely to incur bald spots where they have been pulling hair. However, unlike conditions such as alopecia, the bald spots are likely to be uneven and messy.
- People with the disorder are more likely to suffer skin conditions such as infected follicles.
- Those who are aware they are suffering from trichotillomania are likely to try and cover up areas where they have been pulling hair to avoid attention.
- Some people with the disorder will even eat the hair they pull out which, over time, can lead to the development of a hairball in the stomach, making them ill and necessitating surgery for removal.
In the earlier days of trichotillomania research, it was widely accepted to be the result of depressive episodes. However, while those with depression have a higher likelihood to engage in the behaviour, today it is viewed as a separate condition that cannot simply be treated with antidepressants.
It is always important to visit a GP to ensure that there is a hair pulling disorder, and that the hair loss is not the result of another condition. Once diagnosed, however, there are several treatments available:
- Through the use of cognitive behavioural therapies, a counsellor can help the individual to engage in habit reversal training which allows them to stop or re-direct their compulsions in healthier ways.
- Someone who suffers from trichotillomania due to stress should be helped in identifying their triggers, and if they cannot be avoided in everyday life, use physical objects such as stress balls to satiate the urge to pull their hair out.
- If the triggers can be avoided, then it is important for the individual to do so – or at least temporarily whilst receiving therapy.
- Sufferers should also be encouraged to talk about their condition with people they trust in order to gain emotional support.
- If they are finding it hard to stop the behaviour, then they should attend a specialist or clinic that has experience in hair loss conditions.
Do You Need Help With Trichotillomania?
If you are worried that you are suffering from an excessive urge to pull out your hair, it is always advisable to visit your GP to discuss the options that are available to you. If you would like to consider our hair growth system for your trichotillomania then you can book a complimentary initial appointment at the Hair Growth Studio if you’d like advice from a different perspective.