Help me help someone manage their trichotillomannia.
December 30, 2005 12:33 AM   Subscribe

Are any MeFites here sufferers of Trichotillomannia? Or the loved one of someone who does have it, like I am? Does anyone have any suggestions how I could help them?

I've done a lot of research online into the subject, and I've found that often the best thing one can do is to simply offer support and love, which I try to dish out in spades to my loved one. While I realise that there isn't a cure for it, or a definitive answer to my question, I want to get as many ideas as possible to help my loved one control the trich. So all constructive suggestions will be gratefully accepted.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (11 answers total)
[I had to look it up: Trichotillomannia]
posted by samh23 at 1:28 AM on December 30, 2005

Guilty. You need to look for something called cognitive behavior therapy. Which is the only therapy that has shown to give results. for me the best thing to do is to be active. I only have problems when I'm passive and bored. So I carry around a little gameboy. Whenever I get the compulsion I start it up, play a little and the compulsion goes away.
posted by nosophoros at 1:33 AM on December 30, 2005

Scroll down on this site for some tips on coping when a family member/friend has OCD (which, as you probably know already, is similar to trichotillomania). They are mostly geared toward keeping yourself from getting burned out, which is key in being able to offer continued love and support to someone who is ill.

I can say from experience that therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral therapy, is extremely helpful in dealing with obsessive-compulsive symptoms, so definitely encourage your loved one to take his/her therapy seriously and work at it (assuming he/she is in therapy).

You will probably get really frustrated with your loved one at times, and wonder why he or she won't just stop this behavior--it seems like it should be very easy if you're not suffering from the compulsion yourself. Just keep reminding yourself that the hair-pulling is nearly uncontrollable. It's like snorting a line of black pepper--you might be able to keep yourself from sneezing for a little while, but eventually, it's going to happen--you can't help it.
This may seem like obvious advice, since you already realize that trichotillomania is a disorder and that the person can't help it; however, it is very easy to get frustrated and forget that fact momentarily.
posted by feathermeat at 1:51 AM on December 30, 2005

Creepy. Was busy pulling on my hair while scanning AskMe. I'll be watching this thread myself.
posted by luftmensch at 2:06 AM on December 30, 2005

I can't speak to anything here, I'm sorry -- so this is a wasteful comment.And yes, I've already flagged the posts in this thread as fantastic, but I just wanted to say, that it's things like these that make me feel very happy about this community. thanks everyone for helping, or trying to help. I'm consistently surprised by the camaraderie that can emerge from this site when we're at our best. It's really lovely.
posted by fishfucker at 2:46 AM on December 30, 2005

For my psychopathology class, one of my friends researched this disorder (she suffers from it herself). What she found was that, by learning about the disorder and reading studies and behavioural techniques, she was able to gain control over her own disorder. So, yea, definitely look into therapy, but I'd also recommend that your loved one read all he/she can about it both for better understanding and for easily applied tricks (like fist clenching, so my friend told me).
posted by hopeless romantique at 9:18 AM on December 30, 2005

I have it. I went to therapy (parentally-enforced) when I was a teenager, but they did nothing but prescribe prozac, which didn't do anything. I don't have enough money/time/concern to go back to therapy, so I'm afraid I can't offer much advice. The way I deal with it is by ignoring it, and it really irks me when people try to talk to me about it or "help" me. To me, it's not a huge deal because I've gotten into the habit of pulling from the underside of my hair, so it's not very noticeable. The only people who really notice are my boyfriend and my hairdressers, and my parents.

My suggestion to you is not to make a big deal of it. If they want to work on it or get help, be supportive. If not, don't focus on it or bring it up as a negative, and definitely don't criticize them for it. Just focus on all of the wonderful qualities of that loved one and don't spend time criticizing or pointing out their less-than-desirable traits... which is good advice for any relationship, regardless of whether the person in question has a disorder, a short temper, or forgets to do their dishes.
posted by booknerd at 9:28 AM on December 30, 2005

... and the fact that you're anonymous suggests you're already placing more of an emphasis on this than is necessary. There's no need to perpetuate the stigmatization of stuff like this by hiding behind an anonymous question.
posted by booknerd at 9:30 AM on December 30, 2005

Join an online support group. TLC has numerous links to Email Groups and Message Boards. From personal experience, this message board has been supportive to both sufferers and their loved ones.

I also concur with boonerd not to make a big deal about it.
posted by lola at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2005

Yeah, I have it too, though quite mildly. I've had it since I was about 9 or 10, though I doubt anyone besides my stylist really notices (the fact that my hair is really thick helps, I'm sure). For me, the impulse (which is very much like a need to scratch an itch) crops up when I'm anxious, bored, or distracted.

Things that have helped me minimize it (because, frankly, I doubt I'll ever stop entirely) have included talking with my therapist; fiddling with worry beads or squeezing those little "tension" foam rubber balls (I keep one in the car for when I get stuck in traffic); and spending the money to go regularly to a good stylist/colorist (rather than coloring my own hair and only getting it trimmed when it was totally out of control), if only because I don't want to feel like I'm wasting all that money by ruining my hair!

The number one thing that didn't help was someone else making a big deal out of it, and snapping "stop that!!" whenever they'd notice my hand going anywhere near my hair. I'm not saying that that's necessarily what you're doing, Anon -- just pointing out that in my experience, it won't actually make the problem stop.
posted by scody at 1:14 PM on December 30, 2005 [1 favorite]

I have trich, but in my case it's just the most easily noticed of various OCD-like behaviors I have. I go through phases of different activities, so while I still pull my hair, I don't do it as much as I did when I was 13. Now, I chew on my lips and pick at calluses on my hands (calluses I got from picking at my skin). My parents sent me to a therapist (apparently trich is more serious than picking at your skin until calluses form), but it didn't really get at the base anxiety that causes it. Anyway, my point is make sure that they don't move from trich to other harmful tics. In my case, knitting/playing with silly putty helps, but I can't do that kind of stuff constantly. And, whatever you do, DON'T call it a habit. This isn't just something people do, it is a compulsion. My mother still thinks I just have a really hard to break habit, and now I feel like I can't talk to her about it, because she doesn't understand that it isn't a problem with my willpower, it's deeper than that.
Sorry to use this thread as a place for my rant (I've been thinking about posting a question about this for a while), but maybe it will help you understand a little better what it feels like (and how not to deal with your loved one).
posted by MadamM at 3:08 PM on December 30, 2005

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