It can take Alyssa Putman one full bottle of conditioner to go through the knots in her hair.
The 19-year-old resident of a small town in Missouri has struggled with depression most of her life, and sometimes, she finds it draining to brush through it.
“I don’t do a lot of hair care at all, except when it comes to finally showering and getting the knots out of my hair, I’ll go through an entire bottle of conditioner to try to soften the knots to make them less painful coming out.”
To maintain her hair, Putman says it can feel like a battle.
Waking up, brushing your teeth and taking a shower is a routine that most of us can follow with our eyes closed. But for some who live with depression, even the simplest everyday tasks can seem daunting.
While depression looks different for everyone, experts say for some, it can start interfering with their personal hygiene. This can mean not taking daily showers, letting knots build up and neglecting things like shaving.
Dr. David Gratzer, a psychiatrist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) in Toronto, says it has to do with a person’s energy and mood.
“Often patients who are struggling with depression have difficulty with energy and motivation,” he tells Global News. “It can get difficult to do basic things like tending to personal hygiene.”
Gratzer says changes in a person’s hygiene or appearance is a good reminder for friends and family members to step in and check in. If someone with depression is suddenly not shaving for a long period of time, it may be a good time to step in.
“Rather than making a comment on someone’s odour or how they look, it’s very important for family members to talk to their loved ones and talk to their doctors.”
It can be ‘exhausting’
Alyssa Finch, a 34-year-old stay-at-home mom in Seattle, says she had depression for 21 years. “I’ve been to the lowest low, so bad you can’t even be bothered to kill yourself … on up to dysthymia and everywhere in between.”
For Finch, sometimes depression can interfere with her personal hygiene.
“Other times my hair goes unwashed far too long [and] it takes me days to finish what you might call a ‘full bathing routine,’” she says, which includes washing her hair, body and shaving. “Currently I’ve managed to wash my hair one day and shave the next and I literally considered for a split second only shaving one leg because it suddenly just didn’t seem worth the effort.”
She says when she has to think about her personal hygiene, it can be exhausting.
“When I am at the point where it feels like ‘pulling myself together’ it’s draining … it’s a lot of work,” she says. “It takes all the energy I don’t have, and it can potentially make me feel worse because I’m doing it because I have to, not because I feel up to it.”
Putman recently shared photos on Twitter of her matted hair and how much of it she had to comb out.
“Just because I sleep a lot, doesn’t make me lazy. Just because I don’t brush my hair, it doesn’t make me gross or unkept. It just means I’m depressed,” she wrote on the social media site.
She adds for her, showering had also become overwhelming at some points.
“I would just think about all of things that I have to do when I take a shower and it would just consume me and I would shut down,” she tells Global News. “Everything else would become a task that would be too emotionally draining for me to do.”
This eventually led Putman to gain 75 pounds and not leave the house unless she had to see her boyfriend. “Depression makes you feel like nothing is really worth it. It makes you a ridiculous amount of tired that no amount of sleep could fix.”
The daily tasks
Putman says it’s easy for some people who are not depressed to say things like, “just shower” “do laundry,” or “change clothes.” But she says hearing this from others makes it even harder for her to get these not-so-easy tasks done.
“To those who are like me and suffer with the same problem, don’t let anyone tell you what you need to do,” she says. “You know what you need to do and you have every right to take your time in doing those things.”
Gratzer says for others, it’s a slow process to get the energy to do these tasks, and speaking with health professionals, connecting with others online and even accessing resources are all ways to cope.
“It’s important to be patient,” he says. “Problems like depression don’t resolve in a day.”