The Mayo Clinic defines “trichotillomania, hair-pulling disorder, trick or pulling, as a type of mental illness in which people have an irresistible urge to pull out their hair, whether it’s from their scalp, their eyebrows or other areas of their body.”
They go on to say that “although trichotillomania may seem like an obsession or compulsion, it’s actually classified as a type of impulse control disorder – a disorder in which you can’t resist a temptation or drive to perform an act that’s harmful to you or someone else. Behavior therapy can help you gain awareness about your hair-pulling habits and learn techniques to avoid pulling.”
Some clues to a person suffering from trichotillomania include:
1. Random bald spots on the head or other parts of their body.
2. Very thin or even missing eyelashes or eyebrows
3. Pulling out hair and chewing or eating it
4. Pulling out hair and playing with it.
5. Pulling out hair and rubbing it on face or lips.
While most trichotillomania sufferers pull hair from the scalp, they may also pull it from their eyebrows and lashes along with hair from arms, legs, pubic area and any other place on the body where hair may be found. While hair pulling is usually done with the fingers some people do use tweezers, combs or brushes.
There appears to be two types of people engaged in hair pulling. One group does it intentionally and may even have a ritual they perform while pulling. The other group seem to do it unconsciously. It becomes automatic or a habit and they don’t even realize they are doing it.
The Mayo Clinic says research of the causes of trichotillomania is ongoing but no specific cause has been found. It is suspected that causes can include:
Genes-In a news release Dr. Stephan Züchner, in Molecular Psychiatry, October 2006, vol 11. Duke University Medical Center reported that a mutation in a specific gene that could cause an urge to pull out hair. He said that it appears that only a few cases were caused by this mutation.
Neurochemical problems- Some studies including one by Dr. Gultaj Somani of SFU’s health clinic suggest that abnormalities in the natural brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine may play a role in trichotillomania.
Medications such as antidepressants are often used to treat trichotillomania. Rather than be dependent on drugs another treatment has been shown to be the most effective in treating hair pulling. This treatment is called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) and is a form of psychotherapy.
I consider CBT a natural form of healing as it doesn’t use drugs but instead teaches you to become more conscious of pulling your hair, aids you in observing your habits and helps you turn the habits of hair pulling around. It also teaches you which emotions are triggering your pulling. As you learn more about pulling you’re able to find other more constructive behavior.
While CBT is likely to be the best way of treating trichotillomania, it is normally done with trained professionals. If you elect to treat yourself here are a number of other steps you can take to help control the urge to pull your hair and to live an enjoyable life despite its consequences, such as bald patches. Most of these are basically a form of CBT where you are teaching yourself new habits or controlling the urge with the help of others:
I’m a big fan of self hypnosis and believe that a person could help themselves control their hair pulling with it. They might need to consult a professional hypnotist to learn the proper technique to start treating themselves with it. The library has a number of books on hypnosis and the internet has a wealth on information on the subject.
1. Learn what type of situation usually lead to pulling, such as watching TV, reading or maybe driving.
2. Do more things that keep your hands active, like crafts or working puzzles.
3. Wearing gloves can help discourage pulling as well as being a reminder to avoid pulling.
4. Being involved with a support group of others with the same problems can be beneficial.
5. Get an experts help with purchasing a wig or putting on make up if your hair loss is worrying you.
6. By cutting your hair short and taking extra care with it may also be a trigger to keep you from pulling it.
7. Involve your friends and family and have them let you know when you’re pulling your hair unconsciously.
8. You should learn and practice different stress-reduction techniques to find ones that work for you..
9. Write down all the reasons you want to stop pulling your hair and review them often. This suggestion and the one above are two things that self-hypnosis could help you with.
Trichotillomania or hair pulling is a disorder than many people can cure by the methods above. Support from a lot of different places is going to be crucial to your treatment so don’t try and hide it. You’ll likely be amazed at the help you may get from unexpected sources. Studying and learning all about hair pulling will also aid you in controlling it.
Dr. Stephan Züchner, in Molecular Psychiatry, October 2006, vol 11. Duke University Medical Center
Dr. Gultaj Somani of SFU’s health clinic