A look into a mental health disorder: Trichotillomania

JESSICA LEEDS RICHMAN — Denison prides itself on its busy and productive student body. While this has many benefits, it can also lead to increased stress levels. When this happens, students are left looking for ways to cope. Without proper resources one may begin to develop disorders such as trichotillomania. This week we will be discussing the disorder, what it means, and what you can do about it if you have trichotillomania. All sources for this article came from the Mayo Clinic and Psychology Today.

What is Trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania, or hair pulling disorder, is a compulsive condition that urges the patient to continuously pull out the hair on their scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, and/or body. The compulsion continues despite trying and wanting to stop. An often co-morbid and related disorder is dermatillomania, or skin picking disorder. Both of these disorders are classified impulse-control disorders and contain body-focused repetitive behaviors.

What are the symptoms?

According to Psychology Today, the first symptoms typically develop between ages 10-13.

Symptoms include:

  • Repeatedly pulling out the hair on your head or body.
  • An increased sense of tension before or when resisting hair pulling.
  • A sense of pleasure or relief after the hair is pulled.
  • Biting, chewing, eating, or playing with pulled-out hair.
  • Avoiding social situations due to hair pulling.

What is the cause?

There is some evidence showing that trichotillomania may be linked to genetic factors. Also, trichotillomania is often associated with higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. Additionally, there may be a relationship between trichotillomania, perfectionism, and stress-inducing events.

What are treatment options?

Like most mental health disorders, we do not yet have a cure for trichotillomania. Currently, the most recommended course of treatment is therapy and counseling. Typically, an emphasis is placed on cognitive behavioral therapy, though acceptance and commitment therapy has also proved useful. Techniques like progressive muscle relaxation and movement decoupling are used as well.  In addition to traditional therapy, some people find success with prescription medication. There are some antidepressants, antipsychotic medications, and cannabinoid agonists that have shown benefits in preliminary studies.

What else should I know?

According to the Mayo Clinic, trichotillomania can either be focused or automatic. In other words, some people purposely and intentionally pull their hair, while others don’t even realize they are doing it. The same person can do both focused and automatic hair pulling.

Trichotillomania can also be related to either positive or negative emotions. For instance, the positive emotions can come from feelings of relief related to hair pulling. Alternatively, hair pulling can be used as a coping mechanism to deal with negative emotions such as anxiety, fatigue, stress, loneliness, or tension.

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