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Hygiene and Mental Health

We’ve all sat next to that person at work or on the bus that makes you wonder when they last saw a shower. It’s easy to make fun of someone for not being the best at looking after their personal hygiene but it can be a sign of something deeper going on. For many, it can point to a mental health disorder or a trauma that they aren’t coping with.

A good friend of mine struggled on and off with depression while we were at college. One of the early signs that she was going through a hard time was that she stopped looking after herself and doing laundry. Then, I didn’t have the knowledge of mental health I have now, and I would just be irritated by it rather than seeing it as a sign that she needed help.

Showering, changing clothes, brushing our teeth can seem like the most simple, everyday tasks but when someone is struggling with a mental health disorder they may not be so easy. One writer struggling with depression described it like this:

“I wake every morning thinking the same thing I do everyday. “I’ll do it tomorrow,” but tomorrow never comes. Everyday is the same - how can I even get out of bed, let alone take a shower and brush my teeth? ...These tasks that people do without thinking are mountains for me to climb, and sometimes I can’t even take the first few steps.”

Depression can lead to fatigue and a lack of interest in normal activities. The thought of washing can just seem too demanding or even induce panic. Some people may experience physical pain as part of their depression making any activity difficult. Others may experience a sensory processing disorder meaning that a shower or cleaning their teeth might cause pain.

If someone you know isn’t looking after themselves, don’t ignore it or make fun. Make time to check in with them privately and ask them if everything is ok. Let them know that you care for them and that you have noticed that it doesn’t seem like they are doing so well. They may open up so you can help them get support for whatever is going on. They may also push away from you because they feel embarrassed; just make sure they know you are there for them if they do want to talk.

If this is something you are experiencing, please reach out for help if you haven’t already. It can be embarrassing to talk about these sorts of issues but be reassured you are not alone and it is a very common experience; a mental health professional will understand this and help you get the support you need.

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