Hygiene - The side of Mental Illness no one talks about

Mental illnesses undeniably affect countless spheres of our lives. They can seep into parts of our routines and habits without us realizing their true cause.

The most ordinary parts of our lives, like brushing, bathing, eating, or even getting out of bed can be drastically impacted by mental illnesses. Yet this facet is rarely discussed. One of the reasons being that hygiene is a concept that is an expected state, a supposedly natural habit.

Be it PTSD, ADHD/ADD, OCD, executive dysfunction, anxiety or depression, hygiene is likely to take a hit. It can span an entire spectrum from an obsession with hygiene, to a complete lack of personal hygiene. The deeper you delve, the more you realize how common, yet undiscussed the relationship between someone’s mental state and their hygiene is.

There are times when lack of hygiene can be the cause of the issue, or an effect.

For anyone experiencing a mental illness, the question arises - ‘It shouldn’t be this hard to take care of myself, should it?’ Sometimes, it's hard to even to get out of bed, forget to do anything else. It can feel like a task to even care to brush or shower or even clean up.

Is it gross? Maybe. Is it still the reality? Very much so.

Sometimes you can get yourself to do everything except one activity. You might be able to shower, brush, get dressed, but not wash your hair.

People can struggle with a lot of daily tasks when having a mental illness such as showering, taking off their makeup, getting dressed, doing laundry, brushing their hair and so on. So does it mean that they are impacted in all the mental illnesses? Let's talk about it.

Research has shown that depression is often marked by diminished interest in activities, routine tasks, tiredness and fatigue. So, daily tasks like personal hygiene can be neglected due to lack of energy and care. Depression also brings along with it unexplained physical pain, which can make it feel like personal care is not possible.

ADHD/ ADD, or ED sufferers can also have bad personal care. This can be from the simple fact of forgetting, being unable to finish a task or being fixated on another task.

For someone with anxiety or a sensory disorder, some tasks might feel overwhelming and physically painful. Sensory disorders can make the feeling of something on someone's skin an unbearable feeling, leading to avoidance of that particular task.

What about hyper-cleanliness?

Quite a lot of mental illnesses can lead to obsessive hygiene. These can include OCD, PTSD, anxiety disorders and so on.

But you might say, hygiene is good right? There can’t be such a thing as “too clean”.

While cleanliness is a good thing, and personal hygiene is definitely important, there’s a distinction between good hygiene and obsession with cleanliness.

While OCD can manifest itself in many ways, an obsession with cleanliness is not uncommon. While the media and stereotypes show OCD as a cute habit, it’s quite more than that. OCD can identify itself as repetitive, compulsive thoughts and rituals that can be distressing. OCD in relation to cleanliness can stem from germaphobia too. It can involve repeating a certain activity or task or ritual multiple times to satiate the distressing thoughts.

This can cause people to be unable to attend to their hygiene routines in a continuous manner. They might get stuck on a particular task for a while (due to repetitive, compulsive rituals). This can cause a person’s schedule to get disrupted and they might not be able to function on time.

For people suffering from PTSD, obsessive cleanliness can express itself much differently.

Distressing flashbacks or thoughts of the event can cause one to feel ‘dirty’ or stressed, or anxious, leading to repetitive cleaning, in order to try to reduce the stress. These rituals can be anything from scrubbing till your skin is raw in an attempt to feel clean and reduce the feeling of being violated.

Is there anything one can do to not let mental illnesses impact hygiene? Yes!

First, we need to recognize it as a stage where it’s “bad enough” to seek out help. Finding a safe, supportive and direct way of approaching a conversation with a Psychologist/ Psychotherapist or even a loved one can be the first step to help.

While instantaneous change is not possible, it is definitely helpful to trick your mind into taking care of yourself. Determine which part of hygiene you are struggling with. Maybe one part of your routine can get you stuck, or you avoid it, while others seem completely fine. Figuring out which part is causing your difficulty is your starting point.

Get help from routine planners. Write your hygiene goal in it. Try to ascertain how often that task needs to occur for it to be successful. You don’t necessarily actually have to bathe everyday unless you are in a situation where your body does get very dirty everyday. This might help you maintain a routine and help you on days you might struggle.

Set up a reward system where the accomplishment of a task keeps you motivated to get going. This reward can be a positive feedback, gifting yourself a thing, eating your favorite food, doing an activity that makes you happy etc.

Find alternatives for different tasks. Maybe brushing stresses you out. Try to use chewable mints, or gums. If you have trouble showering, make deodorant your best friend. Or even dry shampoos. powders, panty-liners, the options are endless. Build a hygiene kit. Sometimes you might not be up to doing a task at a given time. Make sure to carry a small kit with you so if you feel like it, you can freshen up on the go too.

While all of these tricks may or may not work for you, the one thing you must remember is, something done even 1%, is better than nothing done. Maybe you brush your teeth only for a few seconds, or just take a wash instead of a shower, it's absolutely better than not taking one at all.

Just remember, you’re not alone. And you have nothing to be ashamed of. You are loved and supported by people you might not even know! Don’t be afraid to reach out for help, I promise, it will change at least something.

Note: If you are struggling with a mental illness, we urge you to book a therapy session with us. Contact on +91 9326825780 for an appointment.

By Ms. Freya Halgekar

Ms. Freya is an intern at Innate Mind. She got interested in Psychology back in 7th grade when she first heard about Criminal Psychology, the name and description intriguing her and making her wonder if she could really understand how criminals would think. From then it's just been an onward journey, from criminals to everyone else. Apart from this, she enjoys reading and all sports, specially sprinting and basketball. She believes mental health awareness needs to be one of our topmost priorities, making inclusive spaces for all.


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