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Hair-pulling disorder increased over pandemic

The hair-pulling disorder trichotillomania, has increased threefold during the pandemic, leading mental health clinic Paracelsus Recovery warns.  The clinic has seen a threefold increase in trichotillomania, as compared to pre-pandemic numbers. Recently the actress and comedian Amy Schumer raised the profile of the condition by revealing she has suffered from it since childhood.

The clinic further warns that less common anxiety disorders such as OCD, germophobia and agoraphobia are also up, as millions suffer from ‘back to normal’ anxiety.

Paracelsus Recovery, based in London and Zurich, said it had seen a ‘dramatic’ increase in the incidence of the disorder, in which people repetitively pluck out hair from anywhere on the body, including the scalp, eyelashes and eyebrows.

Though the condition is most commonly first seen in teenagers and young adults, the clinic said it was increasingly seeing older people developing symptoms for the first time later in life – part of a surge in anxiety-related conditions apparently associated with the coronavirus pandemic, which the clinic is highlighting to mark Mental Health Awareness Week.

The profile of trichotillomania has been increased by actress and comedian Amy Schumer’s revelation earlier this year that she has suffered from the condition since childhood, describing it as her ‘big secret’.

According to the TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (previously the Trichotillomania Learning Center), around one in every 50 people experiences hair-pulling in their lifetime.

Jan Gerber, CEO and founder of the clinic, said: ‘We have seen a 300 per cent increase in referrals and inquiries about hair-pulling compared to what we experienced pre-pandemic.

‘We are seeing clients who have never had this problem before pulling out so much hair that they are having to wear hats and wigs to cover up bald spots, even though they are desperate to stop.

‘For many of us, over the last two years everyday life has become very overwhelming. This can lead to stress, anxiety and tension, which is relieved by hair-pulling. It is not clear whether this will be a temporary uplift seen as a hangover from the pandemic, which has had very severe consequences for mental health, or a more permanent shift.

‘But it is clear that while trichotillomania has been seen as a very unusual condition, clinicians and parents need to be aware of it as it is currently much more commonplace.

‘People with trichotillomania often can’t get the help they need because of misconceptions about the condition. In our view, it needs to be treated as an increasingly common manifestation of anxiety.’

The increase in trichotillomania is part of a broader increase in ‘back-to-normal’ anxiety identified by Paracelsus Recovery.

Obsessive handwashing, germophobia and OCD have become major symptoms of post-pandemic anxiety. These kinds of issues can sometimes be hard to detect because handwashing and disinfecting have been vital to staying safe from coronavirus.

Agoraphobia has also become more common. This is most likely because large crowds have been dangerous to our health for nearly two years. For some people, that has led to an all-encompassing fear.

Trichotillomania and skin-picking are impulse control disorders that are often co-occurring with ADHD or eating disorders (particularly anorexia nervosa).

Mr Gerber added: ‘The full mental health impact of the pandemic is still not known and returning to so-called normal life has been and will continue to be a difficult process for many people.

‘The isolation and fear of the pandemic and lockdowns has unsurprisingly led to a huge increase in anxiety. However, the measures we took to stay safe and the fear around infection have caused this anxiety to manifest in less typical ways.

‘Hand-washing and germophobia are two of these symptoms that we have seen increase exponentially through treatments for other conditions, such as addiction, as well as through referrals.’

At Paracelsus Recovery, all unhealthy and unhelpful coping mechanisms are seen as forms of self-harm and manifestations of anxiety.

Like all mental health conditions, anxiety will not go away on its own. If left untreated, it will worsen over time. Therefore, extreme reactions are signs that someone has been struggling for a long time with underlying issues.

In some cases, these extreme reactions to anxiety can also indicate underlying burnout. When this happens, it can lead to anhedonia which is the inability to feel any pleasure.

About Paracelsus Recovery

Paracelsus Recovery is the world’s most individual and discreet addiction and mental health service, with up to 15 staff focusing on one client at a time. Working primarily with high net worth and celebrity clients, the clinic provides cutting-edge treatment delivered by a passionate and empathetic multidisciplinary team in an environment guaranteeing privacy. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London. [email protected]

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