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If you use TikTok, or any social media app, you'll notice that mental health is a recurring topic of conversation. From awareness to advocacy, users across the globe are sharing the myriad of ways mental illness can manifest.
One such revelation garnering massive attention, are the posts and videos that show a person completing what's typically considered an everyday task after a lengthy period of time. Videos relating to mental health, depression and depression cleaning have been viewed billions of times with many users offering glimpses into their day to day struggles with personal hygiene due to mental illness. At fist, it’s unsettling to think about a person not brushing their teeth for weeks on end or a pile of dishes going unwashed for several months. However, anyone who has struggled with mental health issues and experienced similar situations will know that what we’re actually viewing is a moment of victory.
Mental illness affects every part of our daily lives, including personal hygiene and household tasks. What we’re witnessing in these viral TikTok posts are people who have pulled themselves through a dark period in their lives, and that should be both celebrated and met with compassion.
Naturally, curiosity causes us to wonder how this actually occurs. Dr. Amy Marschall, a clinical psychologist, explains that our mental health is intricately tied to our physical health so much so that a mental health episode can cause physical sickness. It’s not uncommon for someone with a mental health issue to experience nausea, headaches, body aches or fatigue. With illness such as depression, a person can have little to no energy to complete simple tasks such as preparing a meal, showering or brushing their teeth. In turn, this makes other tasks such as cleaning any part of the house seem like a much bigger undertaking.
”Mental health also has an impact on executive functioning, which is the brain's ability to organize and break down tasks. When you take a shower, your brain sees the shower as one task: bathe yourself. But for a person having high anxiety, or a depressive episode, or dysregulation due to attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), or something else, their brain might see the one task as an overwhelming number of smaller tasks: go into the bathroom, get your towel, turn on the water, take off pyjamas, get in the shower, get the loofah, etc," Marschall said in an interview with Yahoo Canada. "At that point, it feels like so many things and they can't get started.”
These feelings repeat themselves and suddenly a few days, weeks or months have gone by. So how do we get to the “other side” of a mental illness spiral?
According to Marschall, the first step is to acknowledge what is happening and eliminate any negative self talk by utilizing the phrase, "The biggest lie my depression [or other mental illness] told me was that I wasn't."
If you're dealing with mental health exhaustion, overstimulation or executive dysfunction, Marschall suggests reminding yourself that "you don't have to do all of the things- just brush your teeth." Sometimes, if you activate yourself to just do one small thing, you can find the motivation to do more. For instance, brushing your teeth can turn into, "While I'm in the bathroom I might also wash my face and fix my hair."
She explained that when someone feels overwhelmed or exhausted, they usually aren't thinking, Wow, my mental health is suffering today. Instead, people often consider their feelings to be a reflection of who they are, and will internalize them to believe that they're lazy or or something similar that will make them less likely to want to complete these everyday tasks.
By noticing that depression or anxiety is giving them a hard time, people can extend grace to themselves and prioritize what needs to be done. No, it’s not the end of the world if you don't take a shower every single day, but poor dental hygiene has been connected to other medical condition, like heart disease and diabetes.
Other things that can be helpful is instituting a rewards system, utilizing a hygiene tracker or designating a safe person that can give you a gentle nudge to keep up with your hygiene and assist with completing larger tasks.
The important thing to remember is you are not alone. As we move into the one year anniversary of quarantine, restrictions, isolations and job loss due to the Coronavirus there has been an increase in mental health concerns and illnesses. In fact, according to a recent study published by Mental Health America, the number of people screening with moderate to severe symptoms of depression and anxiety has continued to increase throughout 2020 and remains higher than rates prior to COVID-19.
If you or someone you know is suffering, please contact Crisis Services Canada at 1-833-456-4566, call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.
For a full list of resources including mental health services in your area, visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.