As it's Mental Health Awareness Week this week, we thought we'd take this opportunity to talk to you about a mental health illnness that you might not know much about. The Article below was written by Aurora who is currently studying Psychology at University. She hopes you find it helpful.

Not everyone has heard of this condition, even though it is surprisingly common. You may not even know it had a medical sounding name?!

The phrase ‘I could pull my hair out’ is real for people experiencing trichotillomania – and is sadly very damaging to the emotional and mental wellbeing.

Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder where people feel compelled to touch and/or pull their hair. Although it may not seem like it, people effected by this condition do not seek pain.

Hair pulling can be indicative of self-harming, however inflicting punishment is often not the goal and self-hate not the motivation, although stress can trigger, or exacerbate the condition.

Trichotillomania encompasses all kinds of hair including: scalp hair, eyebrows, eyelashes, armpit hair, pubic hair, ear hair, nose hair, body and facial hair. Individuals may have a particular area, or areas, they frequently pull at. However, getting rid of the hair (going bald, for example) doesn’t stop the need, at least for long; and sufferers often move on to other areas of their hair, this may resolute in having areas of the body hairless. The impact of this hair loss may be a cause for concern as others notice and comment on it, causing distress to the sufferer.

Hair pulling is a trait which can accompany many psychological disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder. However, there is no established link between mental illness and trichotillomania. If you suffer with trichotillomania, you aren’t mentally unwell: you may have developed a habit or coping strategy for anxiety, often starting in teenage years.

Many people like to play with their hair, twiddle with it and pull strands out. It doesn’t negatively affect their lives and may even go completely unnoticed. While it isn’t in any way a life-threatening condition, it can be quite distressing especially for those with more severe condition. Some people can pull whole clumps of hair out in one sitting, often without realising it.

Trichotillomania appears to be more prevalent in women than in men, but this may be because women are more likely to seek medical help for this type of disorder.

Although this is thought to be a ‘chronic’ condition, people may find that whole years go by where they don’t feel the need to touch their hair. Although there isn’t a cure yet, there are plenty of things people can do to help themselves:

Therapies such as psychotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) have been known to help;
Lots of people find twiddling with other objects like tangles or rubber bands quite helpful;
Anti-anxiety and anti-depressants may help to alleviate stress in other areas of a person’s life which may be affecting their condition;

Talking to others at Trichotillomania Support online may be helpful –for emotional support and advice as well as gaining support from other sufferers.

Persistent hair pulling can result in permanent hair damage where hair either doesn’t grow back properly or doesn’t grow back at all. This can be frightening and depressing, but it is important for people to accept it as a part of themselves. Something which shouldn’t be fought against, but worked with. Agonising over it will only make it worse and trying to force yourself not to touch your hair will cause enormous stress.

What works best will depend entirely on you. Your trichotillomania is a part of you, it does not define you. Embracing it is the first step towards managing it.

And remember; you’re not alone

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