Teens Dealing With Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder)

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The teenage years are an emotionally tumultuous time in anyone’s life across all cultures. In psychology the development of a healthy ego is fundamental to healthy functioning in society. According to one of the pioneers in psychological theory, Erik Erikson, the ego develops as it successfully resolves crises that are distinctly social in nature. The teen years is when we transition between childhood and adulthood and is therefore a very important stage in our development. According to Erikson, the primary task in adolscence is resolving the internal conflict known as identity versus role confusion. In trying to establish an identity teenagers are more susceptible to peer pressure and social norms, and are therefore more vulnerable to the negative messaging we are bombarded with in the media on a daily basis. The added pressure of modern society means that teenagers are even more stressed out than adults as was found in a 2013 American Psychological Association report. This puts teenagers at a higher risk for developing psychological disorders and trichotillomania is no exception.

Trich in Teens

Trichotillomania (TTM) is a condition which has been linked with “significant morbidity, comorbidity, and functional impairment.” A lot of research has been conducted to understand its impact, associated issues and methods to control it. TTM in simple words is the continuous and excessive pulling of hair that results in a large amount of hair loss. As compared to adults it is 7 times more prevalent in children. The most affected age is between 4 and 17 years. Since this is a dermatological condition, these patients need to see a dermatologist followed by a psychiatrist. According to The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5):

"Trichotillomania can be categorized into an obsessive-compulsive and related disorder which is characterized by recurrent body-focused repetitive behavior (hair pulling) and repeated attempts to decrease or stop the behavior.”

One survey was conducted where 133 youth aged between 10 and 17 years were included. These respondents pulled hair from their scalps, eyelashes and eyebrows. Most of them claimed that hair pulling provided them with relief from tension. The research revealed that most of them felt anxiety, depression and also suffered from slight impairment in terms of their social and academic abilities. After treatment for TTM, parents of 17% children and adolescents reported improvement.

The exact cause of TTM is still unknown.. Some theories consider it an addiction while others have observed that the affected individual experiences a sense of release or relief from emotional distress or tension. Experts believe that therapy and emotional support are the most effective means of managing this behavior. One major concern amongst physicians associated with TTM is the image created by media. The image that media creates via movies, ads etc. has a great influence on teenagers and young adults. They want to follow the specific standards of beauty and want to look like models and celebrities. If friends and family are not supportive and feel embarrassed about the condition, the sufferer feels greater distress. Especially those going through adolescent are conscious about their social status and therefore feel depressed. The need to look good and more like your peers also puts a lot of pressure on them. Not being able to look like your peers can result in further depression and thus worsening of the TTM condition.

Teen Need Support and Acceptance

The emotional impact of this condition cannot be ignored. Especially teenagers who are already going through a lot in terms of peer pressure, hormonal changes and feel that no one can understand them, often end up feeling alone, rejected and/or depressed. Teenagers may experience identity crisis, experience bullying, rejection from the opposite sex etc and end up with an obsessive-compulsive disorder like TTM. Hence adolescent already being a difficult time combined with such disorders, can worsen the journey. These experiences then impact individuals in their adulthood and remain a haunting memory for life. Thus these conditions must be addressed and treated on time. Conditions such as TTM are not only difficult to explain but quite embarrassing for sufferers to share and seek help for. It is therefore important for the person’s parents, siblings and friends to take the affectee into confidence and encourage him/her to seek professional help. There are TTM centers that can ensure recovery via different tools and resources. With the internet it has become as simple as finding help online within the comfort of your own home. Further you do not have to face anyone and can talk to experts without revealing your identity if the situation is very disturbing for you and you do not wish to have a face-to-face conversation. Search for experts in your locality via Google and find emails and contact numbers. Once you have confidence to face people, visit the counselor/physician for a physical examination. Take a parent, sibling or a friend you are comfortable with and ask them to accompany you.

Treating it sooner can save the patient time and pain. Look for online communities where people are discussing their problems related to TTM. See how they are managing this issue and how they sought professional support. This can help you boost your confidence and approach professional help. One example of such a site that seemed very informative and helpful is PsychForums. Just a simple search for the work trichotillomania brings up 348 search results of people reaching out for help, offering hope with their personl stories or just seeking answers. There may be many more if you search related terms like hair pulling, and that is only one of many support forums. On our own forum here at Trichstop many people have used the space to ask questions and we try our best to respond to these questions. Talking to people who have suffered this condition can be highly beneficial as you feel more relaxed talking to someone who has gone through the same problem. But any form of emotional support in general makes a huge difference to the probability of success in managinf this condition.