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Can’t stop pulling your hair? It could be sign of this mental health disorder


In the realm of mental health, there are a wide range of conditions that affect the lives of many, and some may even go unnoticed. What may seem like a weird habit in a person may actually be sign of a disorder. One such condition is the compulsive hair pulling also known as trichotillomania. A person suffering from this condition feels a strong urge to pull their hair from the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, arms and legs. This may result in hair loss which could be quite distressing for the person. While they understand the consequences of their actions, they cannot get themselves to stop pulling their hair as they get a sense of relief and satisfaction out of it. One may not even realise when a seemingly harmless habit of pulling hair out of their eyebrows or eyelashes turns into an obsession. (Also read | What is pica, the eating disorder that’s making a 3-year-old eat her sofa and walls?)

Trichotillomania is a mental health disorder and is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. (Freepik)

What is trichotillomania? Know its symptoms

Trichotillomania is a mental health disorder and is a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder. The person suffering from it experiences an irresistible urge to pull out their own hair, either from the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, or elsewhere. The act gives them pleasure or relief and the resistance may cause increase in irritation and tension.

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“Individuals with trichotillomania often experience increasing tension leading up to the act of pulling, followed by a sense of relief or pleasure once the hair has been pulled out. The visible hair loss can result in considerable emotional distress and may impair social or occupational functioning, prompting those affected to seek various forms of concealment and avoidance strategies. Trichotillomania falls into the spectrum of Obsessive-Compulsive and related disorders, underlining the compulsive and often irresistible nature of the disease,” says Brittany Hunt, Therapist and Head of Quality, Innovation and Research Department at Clinic Les Alpes, a Switzerland-based addiction treatment centre.

What are common causes for this hair pulling disorder?

The exact cause of trichotillomania remains unclear, but it’s believed to involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Neurological imbalances and disruptions in brain pathways related to impulse control and reward processing may contribute to the development of this disorder.

“There can be many factors that contribute to why people develop trichotillomania, and it often involves a complex interplay of genetic, neurobiological, and environmental factors. While a direct genetic link has been observed, suggesting a hereditary predisposition, stress and traumatic events can also serve as significant triggers. The plucking or pulling out of hair may initially start as a coping strategy to regulate emotions, however overtime habit formation may contribute to the disorder’s persistence despite negative consequences or a desire to stop,” says Hunt.

Therapeutic approaches for the disorder

Hunt says addressing trichotillomania requires a comprehensive therapeutic approach and lists some suggestions.

CBT and HRT

Cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), and Habit Reversal Training (HRT), are particularly useful techniques. This therapy focuses on identifying triggers, implementing competing responses to hair pulling, and developing coping mechanisms to manage stress and emotional distress.

Medications

Medication, such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may also offer symptom relief for some who’s trichotillomania is rooted in anxiety or depression.

Professional support

It is important to seek professional support as soon as possible, not only because early intervention is an excellent indicator of long-term recovery success, but also because the longer hair is pulled from the root, the less chance there is that the hair will eventually grow back.



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