Trichotillomania is the name of the disorder characterized by compulsive hair pulling. Most people who have this problem pull out body hair to the point of having bald patches, and they often play with and/or put the hair in their mouths. What sounds like a bizarre collection of symptoms is actually fairly common, more often in women than men. However, research and awareness of the disorder has lagged, and it is unclear whether there is a genetic influence at play. Interestingly, new research out of the UK has found some evidence for a gene related to Trichotillomania.

The mutations were found to account for only a small percentage of cases. However, the team believe the findings are significant because they suggest the condition can have a biological basis.

Currently, there is no specific treatment for trichotillomania, although it is sometimes successfully managed with drugs used for depression and anxiety disorders.

I don’t necessarily agree that it takes proving a genetic cause to reduce stigma associated with mental illness, but their work is in need. Like many other disorders, my view is that there is an interaction between some genetic vulnerability and environmental influence. PsychCentral has a nice page on characteristics and treatment options for the disorder (including cognitive/behavioral interventions) that is worth checking into.