Personal hygiene is a subject that is often not discussed on a daily basis. Typically, hygiene is overlooked as we often assume everyone does things in similar ways or have similar levels of frequency. However, hygiene can often be the first sign of the start of mental health issues.
Depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and psychotic disorders are examples where large reductions or changes in personal hygiene are seen. Many people experiencing mental health issues note feeling in a haze where keeping track of days becomes difficult and where there is no energy to bathe, change clothes, or brush teeth, let alone get out of bed. For some, it can feel like such a burden to get clean, but remind them it will feel so much better once they are done showering, washing their hair or face, and putting on clean clothes. Taking care of themselves even just one more day each week can make a huge difference in how they feel.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, some disorders like anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorder can lead to an unhealthy increase in personal hygiene tasks. Examples here include repeatedly washing to the point where skin appears raw, repeatedly changing outfits or washing clothing, brushing teeth repeatedly to the point gums bleed, or feeling a compulsion to continue despite pain or visual indicators that the behavior should be stopped. Again, helping the individual identify a healthy hygiene schedule is a positive first step.
When hygiene habits of someone you care about either increase or decrease, finding a safe, supportive, yet direct way to discuss the change can help support that person in whatever may be going on. This can help to build further social supports and open avenues to get intervention early for someone who may be struggling with mental health issues, or may foster healthy discussion of other changes that person may be experiencing.
Bathing regularly, having positive dental hygiene, and changing and washing clothes are some examples of patterns to watch for. And remember that the general guidelines around frequency, products, and hygiene methods can vary by religious and cultural beliefs.
If you’re unsure of the frequency with which to engage in a hygiene habit, reach out to a medical provider, dental provider, mental health provider, or someone you trust within your culture for advice and guidance.
This blog article was contributed by Matthew Talmadge, Senior Therapist at Nexus-Gerard Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org