What is Trichotillomania?

I got the idea to write this article after a horribly failed attempt to spell “trichotillomania” into Google.

Trichotillomania (trik-o-till-o-MAY-nee-uh), henceforth referred to as TTM, is the clinical term for hair-pulling. Today, I will discuss the symptoms of TTM, triggers for the symptoms, and some of the treatment options available.

Symptoms of Trichotillomania

According to the DSM 5 (AKA, big book of mental health conditions), TTM is a relatively rare mental health condition on the obsessive-compulsive spectrum. It is an impulse-control condition where a person has a frequent urge to pull hair from their body; most commonly, the scalp, eyebrows, and eyelashes.

  • The behaviors are compulsive, which means they are irresistible or uncontrollable.
  • The behaviors result in bald spots.
  • Those with TTM often feel anxiety, stress, guilt, and shame as a result of the behaviors.
  • TTM often hinders social functioning due to impacts on physical appearance.
  • Secondary behaviors such as using wigs, various hairstyles, hats, scarves, or makeup to hide areas of hair loss.

While causing cosmetic changes, hair-pulling can sometimes result in infections or even permanent hair loss. In rare cases, sufferers of TTM have been known to eat their hair, which can result in a variety of gastrointestinal and other health conditions. Remember: the aforementioned behaviors are uncontrollable, so treat individuals with TTM respectfully! #EndStigma

Triggers/ Causes of Trichotillomania

According to the DSM 5, there is a high correlation between TTM and the mood and anxiety disorders, such as depression and generalized anxiety disorder. Sufferers of TTM often exhibit symptoms of perfectionism.

Many with TTM report that the hair-pulling behavior is subconscious while others report that the behaviors have developed as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, anger, and other frustrations.

Treatment Options for Trichotillomania

Most of the sources I reviewed online report that while  approximately 2% of the population meet clinical criteria for TTM, less than half of those impacted actually receive mental health support for their condition.

Treatment for TTM can include the following:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy where maladaptive thoughts and behaviors can be identified and replaced with healthier alternatives.
  • Mindfulness approaches such as meditation can help with coping with the underlying triggers for hair-pulling.
  • Due to shame and embarrassment resulting from hair loss, teletherapy can be a great option for a person with TTM hesitant to talk to a therapist.
  • To my knowledge, there are no medications that specifically treat TTM; however, I’ve worked with clients who have benefited from antidepressants and other mood-stabilizing psychiatric medications to help manage the triggering symptoms for hair-pulling.

Conclusion

By writing this article, I not only learned how to spell trichotillomania correctly but I hope that I’ve been able to inform others about this rare mental health condition.

Still have questions? Drop me a comment below!

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