The Relationship Between Hygiene and Mental Health Stigma
There are a number of facets in the relationship between hygiene and mental health stigma. We probably recognize that mental illness affects hygiene, but the relationship extends to how both are viewed and the overall impact because of that relationship. This is where stigma comes into the picture.
How Hygiene and Mental Health Conditions Are Viewed Similarly
Hygiene evokes an association with things like taking a shower and brushing teeth. It's a larger expectation of taking care of yourself on a cleanliness level. When you mix that in with mental illness, the relationship between hygiene and mental health stigma starts to become more evident. The closer you look at it, the clearer it becomes how hygiene and mental illness are viewed similarly.
Like mental illness, hygiene is heavily stigmatized. Those who struggle with personal hygiene may even be thought of as lazy or not good people. An article I read recently noted that hygiene is "moralized",1 which I think is an apt description of how it's perceived. Ultimately, it's a form of stigma.
People who have mental illnesses can be thought of the same way: lazy, not trying hard enough, and in some cases, not good people. I would argue that mental health struggles are also moralized, and therefore stigmatized, in the same way ("Mental Illness Myths and the Damage They Cause").
Hygiene, Mental Health Stigma, and COVID-19
In the wake of COVID-19, the stigma of both mental illness and hygiene has evolved. Watch the following video where I discuss how so.
The Impact of Stigma on Hygiene and Mental Illness
Many who struggle to care for themselves because of mental illness don't talk about the hygiene factor because of the existing stigma. Someone recently shared with me that she had been struggling with washing and brushing her hair because of her mental health, but she didn't want to talk about it with her therapist because of the related stigma and how she might be viewed.
To some degree, I've thought myself immune to these kinds of things because I have a situation where my excoriation (skin-picking) disorder demands cleanliness for my skin, which counteracts my depression's cries against bathing. The more I've thought about it though, there are many times in which caring for my hair seems like an insurmountable task that I just don't have the energy for ("Overwhelming Depression Makes Daily Tasks Difficult").
I feel people don't realize it's not an all-or-nothing scenario. Maybe that's not something I realized at first either, but now I see it's not either you have perfect hygiene or no hygiene. It's a sliding scale where someone might fall anywhere on it for various reasons.
I hope this helps bring clarity to the relationship between hygiene and mental health stigma, and, in turn, provide us with a greater sense of how stigma, in general, is impacting people's lives.
- Ferguson, S., "Yes, Mental Illness Can Impact Your Hygiene. Here's What You Can Do About It." Healthline, October 28, 2019.
Barton, L. (2020, June 29). The Relationship Between Hygiene and Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, July 10 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2020/6/the-relationship-between-hygiene-and-mental-health-stigma