September 16, 2010

Tricho-what? How do you kow you're making the right decisions for your children?

Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder in which the affected person repeatedly pulls out hair from any part of the body for non-cosmetic reasons. Owing to the compulsive nature of this behavior, it has been suggested that trichotillomania may be a form of obsessive compulsive disorder.  This disorder affects less than 1% of the population, mostly children under 3 and 13-16. 

So, what am i talking about and why am i talking about it?  about a year ago, our daughter's behavior started getting a little over the top.  She was stressing out about small things, she was turning small incidents into major ordeals.  She cried about everything nothing.  There was nothing that didn't make her cry and by cry, i mean sob and wail.  We thought that maybe this was just something that came with the age.  This went on until late winter.  That's when we realized that she had a small bald spot on her head.  We talked to her about it, and didn't think it would be a real problem.  Less than a month later, it seemed that about 1/4 of her head was covered only in a thin layer of fuzzy hair.  On the rest of her head, she was still sporting  long hair to the middle of her back.  It seemed like it just happened over night. 

 We couldn't see it coming.  I was making her bed one day and I looked behind it and was horrified to find hair.  i felt sick as i pulled  handful after handful of my daughter's hair from behind her bed.  except for the churning in my stomach, i was numb.  i didn't know what to think or what to do.  "why would she do this", "what is wrong with my baby" and "what did i do wrong" were a few of the things that went through my head. 
So, we took her to the dr. who told us that if she kept pulling at the rate she was going that she'd be bald within the month.  So, the dr. started her on a low dose of zoloft.  i wasn't crazy about this idea.  i was very torn about putting my 6 year old on anti depressants-what kind of a mother am i?
after starting her on the medication, her behavior improved so much.  it was unbelievable.  she could focus a little better, she wasn't stressed out, little things no longer blew up into monstrous ordeals, the wailing stopped.  it was amazing.  she stopped pulling her hair and seemed much happier.

the dr. wanted to keep her on the medication for 6 months.  after 5, we ran out and decided to go ahead and take her off of it.  3 weeks later, the over the top behavior is back.  it's bad.  she threw such a fit in the middle of the soccer field the other day (she saw a bug and it scared her) that it almost looked like she was having a seizure.  i broke down, called the doctor and had her prescription refilled.  i don't know what to do.  i can't put up with her behavior.  there is nothing i can say or do to improve it.  i can't keep her on this medication forever, but what if it's something she really needs?  what if i'm saving her from problems in adulthood by treating a problem now.  what if she doesn't really need it and we're unnecessarily messing with the chemicals in her brain.  i don't know where to begin with this subject.  i just want my little girl to have a happy, healthy, normal life.  i have always been against giving kids mood or behavior altering drugs, insisting that there has to be a natural treatment that will do a better job.  that's an easy thing to say when you're talking about someone else's kid or children in general, but it's so different when it's your child.  things are never as clear when it's your own child.

how do you feel about kids taking behavior modifying medications?  have you ever heard of trichotillomania?


  1. I have heard of it but never had any experience with it in real life. Wow, I can't imagine dealing with it.

    As far as the drugs go, I am like you. It is so easy to say I will not give mood altering drugs, I will not let them take this or that. But we also don't have a need for it. It is so easy to say what you will or will not do until the situation actually presents itself.

    Instead as parents we will spend a lifetime making tough decisions. And in the end all we can do is what works.

    There is nothing that says she will need it forever. But even if she does, it is not the end of the world. You take it one day at a time and deal with it as it comes.

  2. I'm not a parent but I think this is what I would do: First, I would learn all I could about this condition. I consider research to be very important when facing a tough decision like this. Ask questions like 'Would talk therapy help to reduce her anxiety in addition to the medication ?' 'Is she taking the minimal amount to help her needs or could we be overmedicating (even slightly)?' If this is a chemical imbalance in her brain, then correcting it through medication could very well be the only way to treat it. There is nothing wrong with that. Better living through chemistry is sometimes the best way for some people to cope with daily life. I think this is especially true with children who aren't mature enough to objectively see the situations that terrify them. Gradually you might be able to lower the dose as you find out different ways she has learned to cope with her anxieties and face her fears. This might not be a long-term condition. It just really depends on how biological - rather than environmental - the condition is, I think.
    I'm not an expert, but I'm not exactly ignorant on the topic ;-) I hope this helps.

  3. I have heard of it, I actually had a roommate in college who had it. During finals week, she would wear a scarf or hat over her head, so she couldn't pull her hair out while she studied.

    hugs to you, I know how serious it is.


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