In 2012, Natasha Jonas became the first female British boxer to compete at the Olympics.
Now, having broken records in her sport, the Liverpudlian is helping to bust taboos by speaking openly about her hair-pulling disorder, trichotillomania.
Pulls her hair when stressed
Having developed a habit for rubbing things, from her blanket as a baby, to sheets and labels as an adult, Natasha Jonas progressed to rubbing and pulling her own hair. She began with the little tufts of hair and fly-aways that didn’t fit in her hairstyles at the back of her head, then the baby hairs around her hairline.
“Once I’d pulled that row out, you had to move higher, I moved and I kept doing that until I’d got halfway up my head. I had ‘Ms’ at the front and side of my hair,” she told the BBC. “Physically, it is like a pleasure-pain thing.”
This started when she was doing her GSCE exams, so at around 15-16 years of age, but Jonas, 34, has only recently been diagnosed with the condition, trichotillomania. At the time she was under pressure to get good grades in order to be able to do her A-levels as part of a plan to get a football scholarship to an American university, so her hair-pulling was believed to be stress-related.
Even when the resulting hair loss, from where she had pulled patches away, was so severe that it became hard to find hairstyles that could accommodate the remaining tufts, Jonas didn’t consider the issue to be problematic given her behaviour wasn’t hurting others.
“Mentally, I didn’t see it as a bad thing because it was combating and helping me to relieve stress. If it wasn’t the hair pulling how else would I have handled the stress?” she explains, “I wasn’t getting moody and shouting at other people, I was just sitting there quietly pulling my hair out.”
Working with a therapist to overcome trichotillomania
After seeing a TV programme about her condition, Natasha Jonas, whose young daughter and two nieces also either had or have the same pulling disorder, is now working with a psychologist and hypnotherapist to help overcome her trichotillomania.
The aim is to understand where her compulsions to pull come from and identify the mental triggers so she can learn not to react by tugging or twisting her hair.
Because it is a psychological disorder rather than a hair loss condition, counselling, often cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), is widely recommended for people with trichotillomania in order to help them become ‘pull-free’.
In cases where the follicles have been sufficiently damaged to the point where they are no longer capable of producing hair, even with stimulation, the bald patches are likely to be permanent. Although hair restoration surgery may be possible, this is very much decided on a case-by-case basis by each surgeon, with factors such as whether there is enough good-quality donor hair available and whether the candidate is likely to remain pull-free, taken into consideration.
Should the hair follicles in the affected areas still be functioning once a patient has been pull-free for a good period of time, if the patchy hair growth frustrates them, hair loss treatment may be an option. A consultation with a specialist will help to determine if treatment is likely to be worthwhile and, if so, which particular components are best-suited to the individual’s specific requirements.
The Belgravia Centre is an organisation specialising in hair growth and hair loss prevention with two clinics and in-house pharmacies in Central London, UK. 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 world. View our Hair Loss Success Stories, which includes the world’s largest gallery of hair growth comparison photos and demonstrates the levels of success that so many of Belgravia’s patients achieve. You can also phone 020 7730 6666 any time to arrange a free consultation.