Taking the first steps to get support for hair pulling

Around three months ago I wrote about Amy’s compulsive habits and how she had started pulling her hair out again, causing significant thinning. Since then we’ve tried everything we can think of – I’ve spoken to her teacher who has given her a small teddy to hold on the carpet to keep her hands busy, we’ve started taping a sock onto her left hand at night so that she can’t get to her hair in her sleep (if we don’t tape it on, she takes it off in bed), we talked to her about it – explaining that if she keeps pulling her hair out it will think she doesn’t want it there and will stop growing back, we’ve talked about how she wants to have long princess hair or that she can have a really grown-up bob when she leaves it alone.

Amy - March 2019

And yet it’s getting worse.

We keep her hair tied up as much as possible and I rarely see her with her hand in her hair. If I do I just gently remind her to stop touching her hair – she’s conscious of it and I can see her trying to keep her hand away from her head. For the most part I’m convinced that this is something which is happening at night, in her sleep, when she’s completely unaware of what’s happening. Driving to York in January, she fell asleep in the car – so fast asleep that her thumb dropped from her mouth but then that left hand made its way up into her hair and started frantically twirling. She was fast asleep. I gently took her hand and held it in her lap, she didn’t resist or stir.

But if she’s asleep, if this is so subconscious – how do I help her?

October 2018 - Amy's hair / trich
October 2018 – Amy’s hair had grown back well – it was still thinner on the left side but not noticeably so for the most part. We were ready to cut it into a bob to even it all out.
Dec 2018 - Amy's hair / trich
December 2018 – Just days before getting her hair cut I noticed a new thin / bald patch – the hair pulling was back and we hadn’t even realised.
March 2018 – Amy’s hair as it was the day we took her to the GP for the first time – I can’t believe how much damage she’s done in three months.

We finally took the problem to the GP last week. I’ve been putting it off, assuming that there was little they could do for her, that I would be brushed off with “She’ll grow out of it” but I decided to bite the bullet and take her, if nothing else so that there was record of the issue if things didn’t improve. The GP was really lovely – he listened carefully to my concerns and said we needed to take some action. He explained that Amy has a hair pulling disorder calledTrichotillomania (commonly known as Trich) . . which I’ve heard about and researched to a point but hadn’t really believed that was going to be the case for her. It’s more common in older children and as this has been going on since Amy was 2, I felt perhaps the label didn’t match. However, I think perhaps she accidentally started pulling her hair when she was twirling it and sucking her thumb but that over the years it has grown to be more than that.

Colette Burgess blogger and daughter

The Dr referred us to a psych from Mind who was on site that day and we were lucky enough to get an appointment just over an hour later. Unfortunately she really wasn’t able to help us. She explained that she was much more used to seeing adults in the drop in and that the questionnaires she had didn’t seem relevant to a young child pulling hair out. She asked if Amy had spoken about self-harm (she hasn’t), if anything had changed recently for Amy (it hasn’t), if anything could be unsettling her at home (nope, nothing’s changed) and reiterated that she didn’t really know what to do for us. She asked me what help I was looking for – “I want you to help her stop pulling her hair out” . . . She explained she couldn’t direct me to the children’s department as they didn’t see children till they were 8 years old (not sure how that works) but gave me a phone number for “Healthy Young Minds” telling me I had to ask for my child’s consent before I self-referred . . . I told her that as Amy was 5 and was happy to see the Dr for help to “sort her bald head out”, we were probably fine . . .

I rang the number, and predictably was told that indeed they couldn’t help me and that I would have to go back to my GP.

I decided the best thing to do was to call the Practice and leave a message with Reception explaining what had happened. The GP called me back less than an hour later to say he’d caught up with the Pysch and understood that she hadn’t been able to offer any support. In the meantime he’d spoken to a senior colleague who had advised him the best route was a referral to Peads and so that’s where we are. He’s made the referral and I have to ring up in a week or so to make an appointment and take it from there.

cheeky little girl in orange bobble hat

If you have any experience of Trich in young children I’d love to hear from you!



    • Colette
      March 18, 2019 / 6:29 pm

      Thanks Mary x

  1. March 18, 2019 / 6:23 pm

    My younger sister did the exact same when she was younger (pretty sure she was 2/3), and the only thing that stopped her was cutting her hair incredibly short. I really hope you find an answer for Amy! Xx

    • Colette
      March 18, 2019 / 6:31 pm

      Thanks Emily – that’s something we’ve discussed a lot over the last few years. I’m never quite sure if it’s the right thing to do or not – at the moment her longer hair means I can hide it for her, if I cut it short there will be no disguising it but equally it might mean she can’t do it any more . . . It’s so hard to know what’s right.

  2. March 18, 2019 / 8:30 pm

    I am so glad that your gp is listening to you and helping, hopefully the peadiatrician can offer some more wisdom or point you in the right direction. Xx

    • Colette
      March 18, 2019 / 9:05 pm

      Thank you, fingers crossed x

  3. gayle mcfedries
    March 18, 2019 / 8:58 pm

    i have a older boy we experienced trich at 1o i was seperating from my husband we were in salou at the time (its all grew back now) you have to stimulate the hair follicles by brushing them (i know it feels like chicken skin) also eat fish for the omega 3 so tuna pasta for lunch and sardines on toast before bed (hes 13 and fine )

    • Colette
      March 18, 2019 / 9:05 pm

      Thank you – I didn’t know that at all. She loves tuna so I’ll definitely add more to her diet.

  4. March 18, 2019 / 10:12 pm

    I’m glad you persisted and managed to get a referral in the end. The GP mentioned trich to us about Lily but said she was too young for a diagnosis. We really need to go back I think.

    I hope it goes well and Amy gets some support to help her transition through this or find a similar soothing alternative. As always, please do keep updating us as I find it really comforting to see it’s not just us.


    • Colette
      March 19, 2019 / 6:55 am

      The GP really was so helpful. If I’m honest I still feel Amy is too young for a Trich diagnosis, but after three years I think it’s probably fair.

      Will keep you posted x x

  5. Elizabeth
    March 21, 2019 / 9:40 pm

    I myself suffer from trichotillomania and have done unfortunately for 20 years. If you want to reach out, feel free to get in touch. It’s such a difficult thing to suffer from, in a way it is similar to having OCD, you desperately don’t want to do it but just can’t help it.

    • Colette
      March 25, 2019 / 7:29 pm

      Thanks so much Elizabeth x

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