Is Nail Biting a Sign of Mental Illness?

Sally sits in the classroom biting her nails anticipating the pop quiz she failed to study for, and like most kids, it is an anxiety response. According to WebMD, “âÂ?¦. 60% of children and 45% of teenagers bite their nails,” and contributing factors include boredom, stress, frustration and loneliness. Though most people who bite their nails in childhood eventually stop as they grow older, for others, it can become a life-long habit that is difficult to stop. Sometimes people don’t even realize they are biting their nails. But is nail biting a sign of mental illness?

Chronic nail biting that continues into adulthood might be more than just habit; it could be a sign of underlying anxiety or impulse control disorder. Nail biting is also referred to as pathological grooming, and is associated with other behaviors such as chronic hair pulling (trichotillomania) and skin picking (dermatillomania). Many who bite their nails also bite and pick at the skin around their nails. These behaviors are similar to repetitive behaviors commonly attributed to obsessive-compulsive disorder, but the root of the pathology is not fear-based, it is pleasure-based. For some, nail biting just feels good.

Anxiety is normal, but significant anxiety that disrupts normal living can be classified as a mental disorder. Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and social anxiety. If chronic nail biting is a result of an underlying anxiety disorder, the good news is, there is help. The first step is scheduling an appointment with a qualified mental health professional.


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