Our hair is one of the first things that people notice about us, but more than that, it is one of the main presentations of "self" that we make to the outside world. The multi-billion-pound hair care industry is testament to the importance we place on our hair and we only have to look at the front covers of magazines lining the newsstands to realise that whether it's the length, colour, style or replicating the latest celebrity look, hair is ultimately a direct reflection of who we are or who we want to be.
In the year 2000, Yale University conducted an in depth study, 'First Impressions and Hair Impressions', which discovered that we make up our mind on one another in just three seconds flat and that the primary factor in making that decision is hair, followed by eyes and then hands. Whether this decision making process is subconscious or subliminal, it is a fact and seems to prove what we all already know, that having great hair helps us get ahead in today's world!
So what happens when your hair becomes a source of embarrassment, fear and shame? When you turn from being an outgoing, confident person to someone who is hiding a dark, debilitating secret... when you are quite literally 'pulling your hair out'?
For almost one million people in the UK, this is the reality of their lives.
A staggering 4% of the UK population will suffer at some point in their lives from a compulsive hair pulling condition called Trichotillomania (or TTM) or as I prefer to call it, Traction Alopecia, and yet the vast majority of us have never even heard of it. To give some idea of scale, a GP is likely to have at least 10 TTM patients on a typical list of 1,000 patients and every single teacher working in British schools will, at some point, have a child with the condition in their classroom.
The people most at risk from this condition are young women and studies show they are usually intelligent (above average), attractive and sensitive. One of the particularly destructive things about TTM is that it seems to target the very sector of society where it can do the most psychological harm! It is highly addictive and extremely debilitating and although it can't make the sufferer physically ill, it can have wide-reaching emotional and social consequences.
TTM is often done sub-consciously, with 'pullers' suddenly finding themselves with a pile of hair in their hand and no recollection of pulling it. It is this lack of conscious thought that makes it so difficult for TTM sufferers to stop through their own willpower alone and they often need to seek external help in order to control their habit. In order to do this, they first have to admit there is a problem - this is the hardest part and is one of the main reasons why I have launched National No Pulling Week. Other reasons include the sheer scale of the numbers involved and the overwhelming devastation it can cause.
Through National No Pulling Week, I want to make people aware of this very common, yet much hidden and rarely talked about disorder and to highlight that there is help available out there, whether through Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or through hair loss management and replacement systems. Sadly there is no cure; there are no magic pills, lotions or potions that can be applied to treat TTM. It is all about understanding the condition and learning to manage it so you can get on with your life.
I have worked tirelessly for 25 years to try and find ways to lessen the impact that TTM has on people's lives. I lost my hair through alopecia areata at a young age and can now admit that hair loss robbed me of my personality, confidence, self-esteem and in fact, the first 25 years of my life. If I can do something that improves the experience for another young woman then that is an achievement for me. I have developed a range of Intralace SystemTM hair replacement techniques to help sufferers boost thinning hair or cover bald patches. My products can't cure TTM but they can certainly go some way to making sufferers feel better about themselves. Like any condition of this kind, it is worse when sufferers are feeling anxious, stressed or lacking in self-confidence; so by having great looking hair, we can try and minimise these feelings.
Through my work, I am now pushing for more education on the condition to be made available in schools, where the condition often starts. I am also hoping to make parents and carers aware of the symptoms so we can catch youngsters with the condition before any permanent damage is done.
I try to help sufferers have faith and believe that they can defeat it... and for the vast majority, they can.
Just remember to have the grandest life that you can possibly achieve, and you DO have the power within to overcome this.
If anyone reading this thinks they might suffer from TTM or knows someone who needs help or advice, please visit www.lucindaellery-hairloss.co.uk.