Have you ever known anyone who purposely pulls out her hair? Although the idea seems contrary to a typical woman’s sense of vanity, the fact is there’s a mental health condition which involves a person plucking out her own hairs one by one. The disorder, known as trichotillomania, usually starts in the teen years. A somewhat rare condition, trichotillomania usually plagues girls.
What is Trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania is an impulse control condition, as are drug abuse and gambling. Interestingly, trichotillomania, unlike other disorders of impulse control, doesn’t have an element of enjoyment or pleasure associated with it. In fact, people dealing with this condition often report a build-up of feelings of anxiety and/or frustrations just before they engage in hair pulling. Once they begin the behavior, those disturbing feelings remit or “release.”
On the other hand, sometimes a person who suffers with trichotillomania might not realize she’s pulling her hair. She might be reading a book, watching television or talking on the phone with a friend while absent-mindedly plucking out her hair. In these cases, the trichotillomania seems more like an irritating habit that just won’t go away.
Is Trichotillomania Truly an Impulse Control Disorder or an Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Experts disagree whether trichotillomania should continue to be classified as an impulse control disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder, given the variability in how individuals with this disorder exhibit and experience the troubling behavior.
Although trichotillomania is not considered an anxiety condition, often people who suffer from trichotillomania experience some feelings of anxiety. Depending on how parents and other authorities respond to the youth displaying hair pulling behavior, the youth’s hair pulling can increase. For example, if Mother says in an irritated tone, “What in the world have you done, what’s wrong with you?” the youth will only feel more anxiety and distress, thus further triggering more hair pulling.
How is Trichotillomania treated?
Trichotillomania can be treated with antidepressants and counseling. A positive result of taking antidepressants, besides the cessation of the hair pulling, is the person’s mood brightens up somewhat. As with other mental health conditions, it takes some time and effort in trying a few different antidepressants until the most effective medication for the individual is discovered.
In addition, group therapy, support groups and individual therapy are often used as treatment modalities for people struggling with hair pulling.
If you know someone who deals with this debilitating condition, it’s wise to encourage her to inform her doctor of the hair pulling. A doctor in the know will refer his patient to a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist, coupled with mental health counseling to combat this frustrating condition. See the link to the trichotillomania website for more information.