Hair-pulling disorder, clinically known as trichotillomania, is a condition related to obsessive-compulsive disorder wherein sufferers have a compulsive urge to pull their hair out from the roots. It can manifest in very young children, but the typical age of onset is 10 or 11 years. Experts estimate that trichotillomania (TTM) could affect as many as 4 percent of women over the course of their lifetimes.
Symptoms of Trichotillomania
Symptomology of TTM depends on the severity of the disorder. The urge to pull strikes suddenly. Any resistance to these compulsions causes feelings of tenseness or nervousness that can only be relieved by pulling out hair. The most common locations for pulling are the scalp, eyebrows, eyelashes, legs, nose or underarms. Sufferers experience a profound sense of relief afterward. In some cases, they may study their hair after pulling it out, twirl it or even chew or eat it. In advanced cases, bald patches become conspicuous and eventually leave them totally bald. The negative affect on her appearance subsequently causes a variety of social stressors and related problems.
Why Hair Pulling Disorder Manifests in Teenagers
Trichotillomania is a significant problem when it happens to adults. For teenage girls, it can be devastating. The specific causes of this condition are not yet known, but scientists believe it is related to the brain’s impulse control center, which also controls habits, addiction and emotional regulation. Episodes can be triggered by a variety of external or environmental stressors. Diagnostic criteria have recently changed, classifying TTM as one of a suite of impulse control-related, body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) that include nail biting, skin picking and biting, and nose picking.
Treatment for Chronic Hair Pulling
In many cases, girls can learn to control their symptoms with simple behavior modification and stress management techniques. Children and teens generally require a different set of treatment protocols than adults, however, and it’s important to find a practitioner who understands this population. The Trichotillomania Learning Center* recommends behavioral, clinical and experiential therapy, as no medication has yet been identified to effectively treat chronic hair pulling.
Experts characterize BFRBs in children as a family problem, encouraging parents to take an active role in their child’s treatment. It is important to understand and practice the proper responses when you observe your child in the process of pulling. For teens, however, parents are advised to limit their direct participation in the treatment process, and may indeed require some type of professional support themselves. Teenage girls suffering from TTM are often unwilling to engage in a course of classic talk therapy. In that case, residential treatment is advised to halt the cycle of self-harm.
Havenwood Academy offers treatment options for obsessive-compulsive disorder, self-harm behaviors and a variety of other conditions typically experienced by girls and young women. In many cases, self-harm leads to more serious behavioral conditions. Contact Havenwood Academy today if your daughter or another young woman in your care suffers from hair-pulling disorder.