A few days ago, I sat down to watch a portion of Dr. Phil from the episode with Seth Rogan and Barbra Streisand, “Mama’s Boys”, to promote their new movie “Guilt Trip”. While this episode didn’t particularly interest me, I wanted to watch something for half an hour before heading to my chiropractic appointment. When I watch Dr. Phil, it is usually for the more intense episodes that address addictions, mental illness, or abuse. I don’t always agree with the way Dr. Phil interacts with the guests on his show and I find as his seasons go on he is interviewing more celebrities and cashing in on the big news headlines instead of dealing with “real people, real issues”.
With being on the air for 10 years he has not once addressed Dermatillomania although he had aired one episode on Trichotillomania back in 2004. A few years ago I made a video to plea with him to use his powerful media outlet to inform the public about compulsive skin picking specifically, but both disorders need to be made aware of so that many sufferers can come out of isolation and realize they aren’t alone. While watching this particular episode this past Monday on “Mama’s Boys”, I finally heard mention of Trichotillomania… but it wasn’t to address the meaning behind the disorder.
In fact, the term Trichotillomania never exited his mouth because it didn’t have to. He was speaking to a mother of a young man who was funding his artistic lifestyle to the point of cosigning a $50k loan for him. Dr. Phil, flustered, burst out with his southern drawl something along the lines of, “Don’tcha juss wanna PULL OUT YOUR HAIR you’re so frustrated with all this?” And there we have it. Trichotillomania is seen as something people do spontaneously and only in times when they don’t know what else to do, implying that is an optional coping mechanism instead of a consistent disorder that millions can’t escape from.
There is a reason why the phrase regarding “pulling out your hair in frustration” exists and it is due to this disorder, but the phrase downplays its severity and the real impact it has on its sufferers. Expressions aren’t always fact, even if it has some derivative or truth in it. The next troubling aspect about the expression in this case (not including the millions of viewers that watch the show), those who are suffering listen to Dr. Phil; no matter how you argue his credentials, he is known as a doctor and has the field experience in psychological matters. This write-off of a serious issue by making a seemingly simple comment could have made made sufferers less likely to see a professional to begin treatment of Trichotillomania. Already, I have had more than one doctor (some IN the mental health profession) treat me unfairly, with one in particular telling me that I can stop picking my skin at any time and I just need to “grow up” in order to make that choice.
Making the connection between frustration and hair pulling would make it as taboo as if he had said, “Don’tcha get so frustrated ya juss wanna slit your wrists?” Or “… ya juss wanna stick your fingers down your throat to vomit?” Yes, it’s just as crass and just as unacceptable as making light of those who pull out their hair.
I was diagnosed with Trichotillomania because Dermatillomania wasn’t in the DSM-IV. With having it as young as the third grade (it was suspected that I had acne) on a minor level with it becoming unruly in the eighth grade, I didn’t get diagnosed until six years later when I was 19 years old. Even then, having a trade-off diagnosis felt cruel, to know that my real disorder wasn’t “good enough” to be seen as serious by this diagnostic manual. Trich= hair pulling, Derm= skin picking, but a lot of the time it overlaps. Maybe I do have Trichotillomania as well because I pull the hair out of my legs but it’s usually with the intent of obstructing the skin surrounding, or under it.
So here’s my new plea to Dr. Phil. PLEASE ADDRESS TRICHOTILLOMANIA AGAIN AND DEDICATE A SHOW TO DERMATILLOMANIA! It’s about time and it needs to be done in a respectful and non-sensationalizing way. It’s strange why some articles and news casts choose to sensationalize stories about Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors because it’s already “taboo”, “unspoken”, and almost “underground”. What more of a story could someone nab up without having to work at shocking the world? Hell, I was shocked when I found out that I wasn’t the only person who did this so I can imagine the “wow” of those who feel informed about mental disorders learning about these… hearing a story!
I expected more from the USA, especially since the show is located in the same state that TLC is. I can track the locations of people who visit my website and the statistics are disappointing for me because I have an alarmingly high visit rate from Americans than I do my own fellow Canadians. When I venture onto Facebook looking for mental health pages to join, the Canadian ones usually have less than 5,000 members whereas American ones have at least 15,000. Canada is supposed to be known for its openness and freedom to practice and explore alternative methods to any issue… but we are still decades behind our neighbors and we are all behind the UK, which has support groups with more than 50,000 members (all rough numbers). There is a lack of funding into opportunities in Canada and they would NEVER put money into Trichotillomania or even fund a non-profit in this country when widespread mental illness non-profits are struggling to keep afloat.
The “wash my hands of this” attitude needs to change in this country. I don’t know how it will, but I want to be a part of it while being a part of a better change for all Canadians who live with mental illness.
<<< UPDATE: An episode aired on January 23rd, 2012 that discussed skin picking. More here. >>>