A rare mental disorder called trichotillomania that manifests itself in people pulling out their own hair is most likely triggered by stress, Taipei Medical University Hospital psychiatrist Tsai Shang-ying (蔡尚穎) has said.
Citing a patient of his as an example, Tsai said that the university student said that he had been ostracized by his peers since junior-high school, and that he would pull out his hair whenever he felt anxious, to the point that his head has bald patches.
The syndrome has an incidence rate of about 1 percent, which translates into one teenager per three to four classrooms, he said.
The syndrome is not limited to the scalp and can sometimes involve the removal of eyebrows, and in extreme cases can become so severe that it affects a patient’s social life, he added.
The university student had his head shaved as a solution, but that only prompted him to pull out the hair on other parts of his body, Tsai said.
This resulted in a strange and deformed look that resulted in the student being ostracized by his classmates, he said.
The student’s withdrawal from social life turned him into a recluse, Tsai said, adding that he stayed at home and played computer games all day, and only interacted with his family members.
The patient tried wearing a cap to prevent the compulsive behavior, but ended up pulling the hair around the edge of the cap, he said.
The disorder could take other forms, such as compulsive nail-biting or repeatedly scratching the skin, he said.
The student finally sought treatment out of concern over his approaching graduation and the negative effects that the syndrome would have during job interviews, Tsai said.
Trichotillomania can be treated through counseling and behavioral therapy rather than medication, he said, adding that a psychiatrist must gain insight into the context in which a patient started to pull out their hair and how they do it.
People who think they might have the syndrome should see a psychiatrist to have their behaviors diagnosed and undergo assessments to see whether treatment is necessary, he added.
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