trichotillomaniaThe often irresistible urge to pull out one’s own hair is known as trichotillomania. People who suffer from this psychological condition might pull out the hair on their head, eyebrow hair, their eyelashes, and even beard hair or hair elsewhere on their bodies.

Compulsive hair pulling can start in childhood as an internalised physical response to stress, and once the habit forms, it is very difficult to cease.

Signs that someone suffers from trichotillomania are thinning hair around the hair line, bald patches, and short stubbly growth where the hair has broken off.

Isn’t it painful?

The urge to pull out hair becomes so overwhelming that the pain that is experienced becomes associated with the sense of relief.

Similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because of the irresistible urge of the action, trichotillomania differs in that it is an impulse-control disorder – people often engage in the behaviour without even realising what they are doing.

Why do people do it?

The early teenage years – which is the period that it typically develops – is a stressful time for most young people. For some, however it is a particularly difficult time. Where there are particularly high levels of stress, tension, loneliness, or anxiety, the behaviour may become a source of relief from the tension. The hair pulling feels satisfying, and they begin to associate this positive feeling with the action.

Often, people who do it have a family history of the practice, or they may also suffer from other psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, or OCD.

What can be done about it?

Counselling is advisable for someone who suffers from trichotillomania. The long-term complications will seep into their self-esteem and well-being as an adult so nipping it in the bud is key.

Treatment can include psychotherapy, medications for depression, group support, wigs, long nails, and even shaving the hair off in order to go cold turkey on the behaviour.

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By Ian Watson

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