This month marked International No Pulling Week – a show of solidarity for people who suffer from Trichotillomania, a relatively uncommon condition in which hair loss is caused by deliberately pulling or twisting it out.
Usually classified as an anxiety or impulse control disorder, the condition becomes a very visible problem when people with a propensity for twisting and tugging on their hair do so to such an extent that bald patches or an all-over thinning of the hair become evident. Trichotillomania accounts for around 2-3 per cent of all hair loss conditions.
To raise public awareness about Trichotillomania, sufferer Ruth Walters, a 24-year-old from Melton in Leicestershire, recently spoke to her local newspaper the Leicester Mercury about her condition.
“I was in my bedroom all alone and began to pull my hair,” says Ruth, whose Trichotillomania began when she was 14. “It was painful, but my hair came out and the pain felt weirdly nice and sort of satisfying in a strange way. I have been fighting the urge to pull my hair out every day since then.”
Ms Walters, who now works as a mental health support worker, says she can trace her Trichotillomania back to a troubled adolescence. “My parents were getting divorced and that was hard to deal with,” she told the Mercury. She also had her drink spiked one night and thinks she was sexually assaulted. “When you put all this together with me being a normal angst-ridden teenager, I had a lot stressing me out.”
She says that the hair pulling became a kind of “security blanket” – though she admits that hearing it described in this way is difficult for most people to understand. To hide the reason for her patchy scalp, Ruth would tell boyfriends that she had Alopecia Areata, a far more well-known cause of hair loss, in fact the second most common after androgenetic alopecia, and one which is known to cause bald patches.
Pulling hair to feel ‘numb’
Keen to understand her condition, Ruth did a dissertation on Trichotillomania whilst at University, discovering when speaking to other sufferers that a common thread was that they pulled their hair to take themselves to “a different place – a place where they could be numb,” she says.
Eventually, Ruth tried to get the NHS to pay for a hair replacement system which is based around a mesh in which a patient’s own hair is combined with real human hair to give a fuller look. Unfortunately, her application was unsuccessful, so she took out a £2,000 loan to pay for it. “My urge to pull has not gone, but this helps,” she says of her wig which she is pictured, both with and without, here.
Hair loss clinics do not generally treat people with Trichotillomania as the best course of action is usually to seek out psychiatric help. Hair replacement systems, as used by Ms Walters, can also help as they provide something of a physical barrier which can reduce further pulling.
The Belgravia Centre
The Belgravia Centre is the leader in hair loss treatment in the UK, with two clinics based in Central London. If you are worried about hair loss you can arrange a free consultation with a hair loss expert or complete our Online Consultation Form from anywhere in the UK or the rest of the world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which are the largest collection of such success stories in the world and demonstrate the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time for our hair loss helpline or to arrange a free consultation.