Tackling trichotillomania: why we’re tearing our hair out, literally

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Most people want thick, full heads of hair, but trichotillomania sufferers can’t stop themselves.

 Lauren has bald spots where her eyebrows and eyelashes used to be, but she doesn’t have a medical condition that’s making her hair fall out.She has trichotillomania (TTM) and it has made her compulsively pull her eyebrows and eyelashes out since she was a teenager.

Now 22, Lauren can’t remember how it started, but it’s a daily urge.

“I feel I need to do it and no one’s going to stop me and the consequences don’t even factor into the itself,” she says.

“I hate doing it but I need to do it to get that feeling and afterwards I feel a bit frustrated.”

Lauren compares it to a smoker craving a cigarette.

“A smoker needs that nicotine hit, I need that relief and that good feeling from pulling my eyelashes out,” she says.

“Sometimes it’s just more of a habit like chewing your fingernails you don’t really know why you do it but sometimes you just need to chew your fingernails.”

As a teenager, her mum didn’t think much of it, but Lauren “googled” what she was doing and was relieved to find out it’s an “actual thing”.

There’s not much known about TTM.

What we do know is it’s a psychological disorder that makes people compulsively pull their hair out and is incredibly difficult to treat.

It affects up to 4% of the population, mainly young women and it usually lasts about 20 years.

People with TTM generally have a neurological predisposition to pull their hair as a self-soothing mechanism.

The pulling behaviour serves as a coping mechanism for anxiety or emotional trauma.

TTM can drive some sufferers to self harm and become socially reclusive.

Meds can make it worse

New Australian research has found the common drugs to treat TTM are not as effective as once thought, and may actually make symptoms worse.

Lead researcher, Reneta Slikboer, from Swinburne University of Technology found social support and relationship building may be more effective than the most prescribed medications.

“This is a major finding and is something that healthcare professionals really should know about,” Ms Slibboer says.

“We know that people with TTM experience a lot of distress in the form of anxiety, depression and embarrassment, but with very little research being carried out on this disorder, understanding how to treat it has been a challenge.”

“It’s hard to treat because it’s hard to pinpoint the motivations behind people pulling out their hair.”

When treatment doesn’t work

Jess, 24 has seen doctors, a psychologist and tried medication, but nothing has worked.

“It’s all ineffective in treating it and I’ve found that I’ve sort of just gotten used to the fact that it’s probably something I’ll do for the rest of my life,” she says.

Jess has even tried tricks like wearing a rubber band on her wrist and flicking it when she gets the urge to pull out her hair.

“I’m less likely to do it if I’m distracted. If I’m doing an activity that requires me to be doing something else with my hands I’m less likely to do it,” she says.

Jess says it’s hard for people to understand and she’s constantly told “just don’t do it… just stop”.

“I’ve had a lot of frustrations with my family my husband and growing up my parents would say to me, just don’t do it which anyone who’s experienced or have ‘trich’ will know it’s not as simple as just not doing it,” she says.

“I like to think that one day I’ll stop doing it or one day I’ll find treatment that works but I think that it will always be a part of me.”

source;http://www.abc.net.au/

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