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Mental Health Archive
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In this episode of DNews, Julia is joined by guest host psychologist Ali Mattu from Columbia University Medical Center to discuss trichotillomania, the psychological disorder where you can't stop pulling out your own hair. The term, which is Greek for "impulse toward pulling hair", was coined by a French dermatologist 1889, it's been around for quite some time. There are even some records of people with this disorder in ancient Greeks and Egyptian society. What was once thought to be an extremely rare condition, researchers now estimate between 2-4 percent of people suffer from this, with women being a lot more likely to seek help for it than men (but this probably has to do with the fact that men have more hair on their body than women and so they're less likely to stand out if they have it.) Besides causing bald spots, hair-pulling can cause more serious problems. 55 percent of people who engage in this activity also have some kind of anxiety or mood disorder. The condition can exacerbate people's feelings of shame, and cause them to isolate themselves. For some with trichotillomania, hair can get stuck in their fingers, and some may end up chewing and swallowing their hair, which can cause tooth and gum damage. Swallowed hair can build up in a person's stomach and form a trichobezoar, which is like a hair-ball, only it can cause a blockage in the digestive system and be fatal!
People usually start doing this at the onset of puberty. Why does it happen in the first place? Like many aspects of mental health, it's a complicated mix of biology, psychology, and environmental factors. There's a genetic component, too: one study found 38 percent of identical twins went on to develop hair-pulling while 0 percent of fraternal twins did. Even some animals pull their fur, bite their hair, and pluck their feathers, too. Experiments have found that diets high in sugar and tryptophan can trigger this behavior in mice leading them to believe it might be related to serotonin, which is the neurotransmitter that controls mood and impulses. Psychologists are just starting to understand what causes human hair pulling. There's no clear medication that works for everyone, but cognitive behavior therapy has been shown to be an effective treatment. If you or someone you know suffers from hair-pulling, they should seek help, as there can be some very damaging side-effects.
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Trichotillomania: Hair-pulling Disorder (Mayo Clinic)
"Hair pulling from the scalp often leaves patchy bald spots, which causes significant distress and can interfere with social or work functioning. People with trichotillomania may go to great lengths to disguise the loss of hair."
Trichotillomania, Hair-Pulling Disorder, Caused Me To Leave School (Huffington Post)
"Trichotillomania, an impulse control disorder that causes sufferers to compulsively pull out their own hair and can often lead to both noticeable hair loss and social anxiety, affects between two to five percent of Americans."