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Melksham teenager receives Diana award

Emma Simonsen

Emma Simonsen

A young Melksham woman who launched a campaign to raise awareness of the condition that causes her to compulsively pull out her own hair has won a prestigious award.

Emma Simonsen, 18, says she wants more people to understand the little-known condition called trichotillomania. Emma has received the Diana Award for being a Diana Courageous Citizen, recognising Emma’s courageous approach to life and the direct impact this has had on the lives of others. The Diana Award was set up in memory of Princess Diana’s belief that young people have the power to change the world for the better, has Prime Minister David Cameron as Patron and the support of the HRH Duke of Cambridge and HRH Prince Harry.

Emma said, “It’s such an honour to receive a Diana Award for my Fixers campaign. It feels incredible to have recognition for the work that’s gone into my campaign. The knowledge alone that I’ve had a positive impact on raising awareness of trichotillomania and have directly helped other sufferers is amazing.”

Working with Fixers – a charity that supports young people aged 16-25 to tackle any issue that matters to them, however they choose – to get her message across, Emma has created a website to help sufferers and educate others about trichotillomania.

Emma said, “My Fixers project is all about getting people to talk about hair pulling and to understand trichotillomania better.  There is a real lack of information and understanding around the issue. I hid it from my family for about a year and a half.  They didn’t notice because I would style my hair very carefully.  I would cover up any patches that I’d made and throw away any hair that fell on the floor.  I was very ashamed of it.”

Jodie Tellam, Emma’s young person’s coordinator at Fixers said, “We at Fixers are extremely proud of Emma’s achievement, and admire her courage to speak out about such a personal issue. I hope this award will further boost Emma’s confidence to strengthen her campaign and inspire others to get involved in positive social action in their community.”

Tessy Ojo, CEO of the Diana Award said, “The Diana Award is proud to recognise young courageous citizens, like Emma who have the confidence and courage to stand up for what they believe.

“The Diana Courageous Citizen Award is presented to inspirational young people who have made a positive difference in the communities.”

Emma added, “If there’s someone out there in a similar situation, I want them to understand that they’re not alone. There are other people like them out there and they’re not weird.”

Emma says that she first developed a “fascination” with her hair when she was aged 13.

She said, “It started with me breaking off split ends.  I don’t know when it changed to pulling out the hairs.  I’d often sit with my hand there, and a section of my hair became extremely thin and damaged, and really quite bald. There is a lot of shame in pulling your hair.  I was desperate and panicking because I thought it wasn’t normal.  I did some research and discovered that I had a condition called trichotillomania, and that I wasn’t alone and that it is more common than people actually think.

“When my mum realised what I was doing, she made me go to the doctors.  The doctor had never heard of my condition.  But since then I’ve been going to see a counsellor for about a year who has been really helpful and helped me to focus on other ways to keep myself occupied.  My hair has grown back and it’s staying relatively clear of bald patches.”

Trichotillomania is a psychological condition which causes a person to feel an intense compulsion to pull their hair out, and a growing tension until they do so. After pulling out their hair, they feel a sense of relief.

They may pull out the hair on their head or on other parts of their body, such as their eyebrows or eyelashes.

Fixers works with young people across the UK. Each Fixer is supported by the charity’s team of in-house team of creative professionals to produce a resource to get their chosen message across.  Many young people choose to create a short film, website, poster campaign, information leaflet, or hold an event or flashmob.

Fixers has already supported over 14,800 young people across the UK to have an authentic voice in their community.

Young people have campaigned on issues with Fixers as diverse as cyber-bullying, self-harm, suicide and the need for more random acts of kindness.

Fixers aims to work with over 70,000 young people aged 16 to 25 by 2020 to help them to take action and tackle the issues they feel strongly about.

Visit www.fixers.org.uk for more information.