Teen trichotillomania (pronounced trick-o-til-MAY-nee-ah) is not a well-known mental illness. However, if you suffer from it, it’s no doubt a major concern in your life. Especially if you’re a teenager, a time when looks and expressing your individuality is at its highest importance!
The following is a list of questions and answers that can provide you with a framework on what to do if you suffer from Trichotillomania as a teen.
What is Trichotillomania?
Trichotillomania is considered a mental illness that leads to hair pulling, which is usually accompanied by an increasing sense of tension right before pulling with a strong desire to resist any pulling. Yet, pulling hair might bring a sense of gratification, relief, and even pleasure. People with this mental health issue will pull hair from their scalp, eyelashes, pubic area, underarms, beard, chest, legs, and other parts of the body. It can result in significant hair loss and bald spots, influencing functioning at home, work, or school. Similar to Trichotillomania is a disorder that includes skin picking. It is has a separate clinical term and is known as Skin Picking Disorder.
Trichotillomania varies in severity from person to person. At times, it can be mild requiring only awareness and concentration to make a choice other than pulling hair when feeling tense. Other times, the urge to pull hair might be so strong that it requires other means of treatment.
Is this a form of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?
Although a mental health professional would clinically classify Trichotillomania under the category Obsessive-Compulsive and Related Disorders, it is not considered to be Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) itself. OCD and Trichotillomania have different symptoms that require different forms of treatment.
What causes Trichotillomania?
There is not a known cause, and researchers continue to explore the various factors that bring about hair pulling. A recent view of Trichotillomania is that it has various causes, just as a wide range of physical illnesses might cause a fever.
However, it appears that hair pulling tends to take place as coping mechanism. When challenging emotions surface, those who suffer from Trichotillomania pull their hair as a self-soothing tool, a way to regulate their emotions.
If someone were prone to Trichotillomania, the average age in which its symptoms emerge is around 11 years old. This presence of this disorder is seen across all ages, genders, ethnicities, nationalities, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
How Do You Treat It?
Psychotherapy, medication, support groups, and alternative therapies can be successful treatment methods, as well as a combination of these. The most common teen trichotillomania treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is a form of talk therapy that explores underlying beliefs, thoughts, and feelings that lead to behavior. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy would attempt to curb hair pulling by looking at the belief or thought that would lead to that behavior.
If medication and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy does not work, then support groups and/or alternative therapies might be considered. For example, yoga, prayer, meditation, or herbal remedies can play a role in treating this illness.
It’s important to note that depression is common to see in those who have Trichotillomania. It would be important for a mental health professional to assess for and treat depression alongside Trichotillomania.
Why does it seem like I am the only one with this problem?
Trichotillomania is not well known. Added to this is that most who have Trichotillomania tend to experience shame and embarrassment about their behavior and tend to keep it hidden. However, you are not alone in this experience; approximately 2-4% of the population suffer from Trichotillomania.
I don’t pull my hair but I pick my skin excessively. Is this a problem?
Where do I get help?
There are excellent forms of support that you can find either in your community or even online. First, contact a local mental health professional who can start you on the assessment and appropriate treatment. There are also resources online that can provide education about the disorder and its treatment so that you can get familiar with what to do, and more importantly, so that you don’t feel alone.
Will my hair or skin grow back?
There are cases where ongoing and excessive hair pulling led to damage to the hair follicles. Yet, for most people, your hair will grow back in its fullness. And if you’re a teenager, this is important to know!
During adolescence, you are already managing challenging psychological and emotional circumstances; having to also suffer from Trichotillomania can be incredibly difficult. If you can get past any embarrassment or shame you might feel, tell a parent, teacher, or look up a professional in the mental health field. Getting the support you need can facilitate finding freedom from Trichotillomania and ease your relationships with friends and family.