Although it mostly resembles an obsessive-compulsive disorder, there are very different characteristics and require different treatments. The same is true for a tic disorder. However the recent development classifies trichotillomania with the family of body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) like skin picking and nail biting.
Symptoms and Causes
According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, trichotillomania (hair pulling disorder) is most commonly characterized by:
- Recurrent pulling out of one's hair, resulting in hair loss
- Repeated attempts to decrease or stop hair pulling
- Clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning
- Not being attributable to another medical condition (e.g., a dermatological condition)
- Not better explained by the symptoms of another mental disorder (e.g., attempts to improve a perceived defect or flaw in appearance in body dysmorphic disorder)
Unfortunately, the direct cause of the disorder is still unknown, but research continues to seek answers to understand the many mysteries of this unique disorder. There can be many causes that create the onset of hair pulling. What doctors know to be true is that the action is a self-soothing mechanism to external stimuli. Clients with trichotillomania are commonly reading, writing, watching television, or some other form of relaxation. At the same time that does not mean that the only cause of trichotillomania is stress. Perfectly happy, emotionally stable people can develop the disorder too. All possible reasoning should be explored for each individual that shows symptoms, as it can be very easy to quickly diagnose these symptoms as a nervous habit when it may not be that at all.
You can see children as young as 12 months old, however the average age of onset is 11 years old.
Among severe occurrences, trichotillomania can cause the individual to lead a reclusive life, often avoiding social interactions and concealing much of themselves with hats and clothes to protect themselves from guilt and shame. Although the feelings of judgment are painful and relentless, the urge to pull the hair is stronger and will continue. On the highest side, the disorder can lead to hair swallowing where part of all of the hair strands are ingested orally. This leads to a host of other medical problems that often go untreated.
Thankfully there are different sorts of treatment options available for individuals and families dealing with trichotillomania. One form of treatment is usually not enough; therefore multiple treatments are often put together.
Here are a few examples of treatments given by the Trichotillomania Learning Center:
- Cognitive Behavior Therapy- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a form of therapy that seeks to alter behavior by identifying the precise factors that trigger hair pulling and learning skills to interrupt and redirect responses to those triggers.
- Medication- Certain medications have proven effective for some people. Utilizing another form of treatment with the medication is common, however, medicating children is not a common practice.
- Alternative Medicine- All there is to know about this disorder has not yet been discovered. Therefore all treatment processes are to be used with caution. The Trichotillomania Learning Center or TLC, handles alternative medicine in their own manner, “In many cases, these ideas have not been scientifically tested and are supported only by anecdotal evidence. So we explore them with an open, but also cautious mind.”
Most victims suffer alone so support centers are vital to the treatment of individuals. You can start your own treatment center in your area or join an online group or email support system to stay connected and supported while supporting others. You can find a host of support groups at Trichotillomania Learning Center. For additional information visit The Mayo Clinic and Kids Health America.
How you can help…
Knowledge is power. If you know someone with this disorder then understand the facts rather than extend judgment and offer your support by looking past the physical extension of the disease. Seek or start a support group in your area and look out for fundraisers that raise awareness for this unique disorder. Finally, continue to see all as they really are. This above all things will support the cause more than anything.
You are not alone. In August 2013 vlogger Laila from Fusion of Cultures discussed her battle with trichotillomania. Check it out below.