Trichotillomania is an emotional condition that compels the sufferer to pull regularly and excessively at their own hair.
Over time the symptoms of trichotillomania can lead to extensive hair loss, and possibly cause permanent damage to the hair follicles. Trichotillomania is particularly prevalent in children, although some people take this condition into adulthood. In some cases, trichotillomania is evidenced by actually eating the hair, or pulling at skin in another part of the body.
It took a long time for this condition to be taken seriously by medical professionals, often being put down to a phase the child would grow out of, or an attention seeking strategy.
We now know that the emotional distress that causes trichotillomania is very real, and not too dissimilar from the same complex emotions that cause children to self-harm or develop eating disorders. For this reason, identification, intervention and prevention of this behaviour is extremely important to prevent the symptoms from developing into something more serious.
What causes trichotillomania?
Often the condition develops from a simple habitual routine. It is not uncommon for a child to play with their hair, particularly girls with longer hair that they can twist around their fingers or put in their mouth. Although rare, this perfectly normal behaviour can develop into more of an obsession.
More commonly, the onset of trichotillomania is caused by heightened levels of stress, often following a major trauma such as a bereavement, upheaval or sometimes bullying.
How can parents stop this from happening?
A visit to your doctor or other health professional would be the first step, however due to the psychological rather than physical nature of this condition, it is likely that the case would be referred to a psychiatrist or counsellor. Giving your child the opportunity to discuss their feelings openly with an impartial person is often enough to bring an end to the behaviour.
There is also a wealth of resources online including information sources and support groups, that may be helpful if you or your child is suffering with this condition. Please see the following links as a starting point.