It may seem strange walking around with a bagful of unusual toys if you are a teenager or an adult with no children of your own. But if you are a sufferer of Trichotillomania, a hair pulling disorder common in a large number of people around the world, your bagful of toys might be your salvation. Trichotillomania is the repetitive pulling of hair from any part of the body, most especially the scalp. This disease often goes unnoticed because those inflicted by it are often able to hide the symptoms, covering up their baldness or scabs with hats, scarves or longer length clothing. Sufferers continuously pull the hair from their head or body in an effort to relieve tension and anxiety when confronted with a stressful situation.
Your son has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), a common childhood disorder that often persists into adulthood, and after starting treatment with conventional drugs for ADHD, a few months down the line you realise that you’re sitting with another problem - your son has started pulling out his hair. Or perhaps you have a daughter whose compulsive hair pulling has led to a diagnosis of ADHD. Compulsive hair pulling or Trichotillomania, is an impulse control behaviour that is categorised under Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Related Disorders (OCD-R) in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5). So does hair pulling cause ADHD or does ADHD trigger hair pulling, or is there even any connection at all? To date there is not alot of research into the possible links between the two, which should be addressed by research community as the problem of hair pulling seems to be common concern for children with ADHD.
For some people pulling at the hair is just a bad habit, but for millions others it is a compulsive action that they are unable to control through willpower alone. The effects of this condition known as trichotillomania can be debilitating. For years many have suffered alone and in silence, often feeling guilty and ashamed for their actions and for not being able to control it.
It is encouraging to see the increased awareness and academic interest in the medical research fields in body-focussed repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) such as trichotillomania. These widely experienced, yet little known disorders often go undiagnosed because either the patient is too ashamed to seek help, or the patient or mental health professional is not aware it is a clinical condition. Often clients engaged in the online therapy program offered here at Trichstop report that the health professionals they spoke to about their hair pulling concerns, would shrug off their concerns saying that it was just a bad habit the individual needed to learn to control themselves.
One of the frequently asked questions on forums and support groups from compulsive hair pullers is whether or not the inability to stop pulling ones hair is due to lack of willpower and can strengthening the willpower enable them to stop? Partly this question stems from the deep inner feelings of shame and guilt at not being able to control a behavior the person is inherently aware is not healthy and so desperately does not want to engage in despite the damage it may cause to the area of targeted pulling. But it also stems from the common societal ignorance regarding mental illness where behavioral control is compromised such as is the case with addiction, obsessive compulsive disorder, and body-focussed repetitive behaviors (BFRBs).
Meet Emma Garcia, a young vlogger since 2013 who shares intimate feelings and experiences about living with trichotillomania. In this vlog, Emma talks about the two sides she experiences with having trichotillomania and particularly when she has had a bout of compulsive hair pulling. She talks about the guilt and anger she feels toward herself, but at the same time she feels like she doesn't want to let this behavior to take control over her life. She talks about not wanting to be "that girl" who mopes about and is "obsessed with [my] hair". This dilemma that Emma feels is one that so many people struggling with body-focussed repeptive behaviors experience.
The road to recovery can be long and full of setbacks. So how do you know it's getting better? The Trichotillomania Learning Centre (TLC) created a video with the theme “I knew it was getting better when…." to capture the important role a supportive community plays in the rocky road to dealing with body-focussed repetitive behaviors such as trichotillomania and excoriation disorder. TLCplays such a significant role in the lives of those living with these conditions. They have always been at the forefront of research and advancement in knowledge about the disorder and work very hard at trying to find the treatments that work. But most importantly TLC provides the support that those sufferring with BFRBs and their loved ones so desperately need to keep them going on this extremely difficult journey.
There is hope
As some of the participants in the video describe, they knew they or a loved one was getting better when:
This year, the annual Trichotillomania Learning Centre (TLC) Body-Focussed Repetitive Behavior (BFRB) conference was held 10-12 April in Arlington, Virginia. The conference aims to highlight new research, challenges and advancements in the field of BFRBs such as trichotillomania. The conference entails a jam packed program of inspirational speakers, lectures and an opportunity to meet others with the same condition. The conference is aimed at all ages and even younger children and teenagers are welcome, with special programs specifically for this group. One of the highlights of the conference is the closing session open mic. This is when these young attendees are welcomed up on the stage to share spontaneously any message they would like to convey to the audience.
In 2014 Ms Reneta Slikboer, a PhD candidate from the Swinbourne University of Technology in Australia, embarked on her Doctoral research with a focus on understanding trichotillomania. The aim of the study was to understand the psychological mechanisms that contribute to maintaining trichotillomania and how they predict symptom severity. Previously thought to be a rare condition, it is now estimated that about 1% of the population experiences this disorder. Recognized for the first time as a clinical condition in 2013 in the diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM5), researechers are now sitting up and taking notice of condition that can be severly debilitating for many sufferers. According to Reneta:
Online Test for Trichotillomania
Find Out The Severity of Your Hair Pulling With This Free Online Test