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Hygiene and Mental Health

When thinking about mental health, personal hygiene isn’t one of the first things to come to mind. For most people, hygiene means everyday tasks like brushing teeth, washing hair, and changing clothes. These tasks are often second nature, but for those struggling with certain mental or emotional disorders, these tasks are some of the most difficult things to do. 

A woman discussed her own personal experiences with depression and hygiene in a blog post from The Mighty, stating that, “living with a mental illness is a challenge at the best of times, so let’s add personal hygiene into the equation. I wake up every morning thinking the same thing I do every day. ‘I’ll do it tomorrow,’ but tomorrow never comes.”1 

The connection between mental illness and personal hygiene can go much deeper than some may think. 

According to MedicineNet.com, poor hygiene can be a sign of self-neglect and often accompanies mental or emotional disorders like depression and psychotic disorders.2 

Grace Nonemaker, a contributor to The Mighty, tells her story: “I’m not talking about missing a shower or two — I’m talking about going a solid month without a bathing, more than a week without brushing my teeth, even longer without brushing my hair. Wearing the same clothes over and over unless I’m forced to leave the house. I know I’m not the only one who has faced this particular block, however I didn’t know that until recently. I never talked about it, and many people also don’t talk about it, so it’s extremely isolating.”3 

We are only starting to see this side of suffering becoming publically acknowledged. For example, in the television series This Is Us, one of the families is fostering a young woman named Deja who has a history of trauma and abuse. The parents have a discussion about the fact that Deja hasn’t showered or washed her hair in weeks. This lack of personal hygiene shows a symptom of her trauma and the impact it’s having on her wellbeing. 

Nonemaker expresses, “I’d like to think that if more people talked about it, there would be more room for understanding and compassion. Understanding and compassion allows someone to get the help they need. It’s a struggle — not laziness, not lifestyle, not a choice.”  

So if you find yourself wanting to address someone about his or her hygiene, remember that it may be a sign of something deeper. Try to discuss hygiene privately and without blaming or shaming the individual. Come at the discussion with their best interests in mind and a concern for their overall wellbeing. 

Psychology Today says, “perhaps the most important thing to remember as you approach such a highly sensitive topic is that you care about the other person and want to help him or her address the issue without feeling humiliated.”4


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