For the first blog post of this series, I decided to write about something I experienced myself. As a psychologist I think it is important to contribute to mental health awareness so that we can get rid of the stigma of mental health issues.
When I was a kid my dad realised that I kept playing with my hair whenever I was tired of bored.
What he didn’t know is that I wasn’t just playing with it, I was actually pulling my hair out. Years later I found out that this has a name.
The name is Trichotillomania and believe it or not, it is very common.
What is it and what are the symptoms?
Trichotillomania or Trich is on the Obsessive Compulsive spectrum which means that it shares symptoms of OCD.
- The main symptom is the urge to pull out the hair or an increasing sense of tension before pulling the hair mainly of the scalp, but some people pull out the hair of their eyelashes and eyebrows or other parts of their bodies.
- People with Trich report a sensation of relief right after pulling out their hair.
- They might present weird shaped, bald patches and these may be more on one side.
What causes it?
The causes aren’t clear yet, however there are a few different theories regarding the causes of this disorder.
Some cases of trich may be triggered by stress. In a way, trich can be a way of stress coping as it is with nail biting.
Another theory highlights that the hair pulling is an addictive and a negatively reinforcing behaviour as it is associated with tension before the pulling and relief afterwards.
For years I was a bit embarrassed of going to the hairdresser because every time I did, they would always make the same comment: your hair is shorter here.
Since I found out about trich, it has been easy for me to spot other people who have it. I have seen it among friends and co-workers. And it was good to see I’m not the only one.
I have also become aware of it as oppose to doing it automatically without any awareness. This helps me control it. But even though I’m aware of it, sometimes I still feel like I need to do it, even though I don’t want to, because the sensation of relief is much greater. Well, it’s actually related to the sensation of tension or stress I feel before pulling and I guess the best way to calm down is that: the pulling.
But I have found some tricks to help me stop it. For example, I have noticed that I don’t have the urge to pull my hair when it’s tied in a pony tail. So, whenever I can, I have a pony tail. Also, playing with a stress ball or with a hair band on my wrist is helpful when I know I will undergo a period of stress.
My trich isn’t too bad, even though it’s a chronic issue that I have had since I was a little girl, I think I can manage it. If it ever gets worse, I will definitely take on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). But for now, I want to deal with it by myself. Part of the reason is because I want to practice CBT on myself.
I am also quite lucky because I don’t have bald spots. I did in the past when I was under a lot of stress and didn’t notice the pulling. I do have short hair in some places of my head, but I have enough hair that I can cover it and I doubt anyone notices.
Other people aren’t so lucky. They can’t cover their bald spots and they even hurt their scalps with the pulling. This disorder can be a very hard one to deal with. When you pull your hair out of the root, chances are high that it may never grow again, making those bald spots permanent. People living with this condition offer suffer from low self-esteem due to the lack of hair in some spots.
In some cases, it doesn’t stop there, the low self-esteem can lead to depression and anxiety, especially in social situations such as performance at work or dating.
This is the first post of my mental health series. My main is to raise awareness about mental health issues and disorders that are less well known. If you see someone pulling their hair out, now you know Trichotillomania might be the reason. And if you are the one pulling your hair out, maybe this article will help you be aware of it. Afterall, awareness is the best step in the direction of the solution.