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Depression and Hygiene - Let's Talk About It

A running shower in a white room with a shower curtain.

A child who is struggling with depression often also struggles with their energy levels. It can be hard for them to do basic tasks that were once a daily occurrence for them. Whether it is cleaning their rooms, brushing their teeth, taking a shower, or changing out of a beloved comfy outfit - if your child is struggling with their hygiene - it may be a sign of a deeper issue.


Every child is different and there is no one-size-fits all solution to helping your child but if you notice your child struggling with their hygiene as a result of depression give some thought about whether or not you think some of these tips would fit your family dynamic.



1. Acknowledgement goes a long way

Nobody wants to be perceived as “unclean,” so if your child is struggling with their hygiene they may not bring it up, and as a result of that they could think it is just them who struggles in this way. It can feel very embarrassing to be too tired to do something that sounds as simple as brushing your teeth.


If you or your partner has ever struggled with depression and personal hygiene consider bringing that up to your child to connect with them and show them that they are not alone. If you have not but and are concerned, breach this topic sensitively. Avoid bringing it up in front of anyone else, even other siblings. Bring up what you have noticed in a caring way and ask them why they think they are finding it so hard to do certain things right now. If they tell you they have no energy or “don’t feel like it” ask if they know that people who struggle with depression can also struggle with their hygiene. We know that it can be scary to use words like depression and anxiety with your child but by giving them the vocabulary to describe their feelings is so important. You are laying a foundation for the rest of their lives that empowers them to express their mental health struggles.

A pile of well worn tennis sneakers on a wooden floor.

2. Start Small

Rome wasn’t built in a day. Your child cannot completely resolve their struggles with hygiene overnight. We know that you want what's best for them and that a clean room and good personal hygiene is overall better for both their physical and mental health; but you have to start small. If you bulldoze into their room with heavy duty trash bags and a loofah you are going to be met with a very unhappy child, who may be hesitant to tell you about their struggles in the future.


What can be helpful for your child is to start with small, achievable tasks for them to do. Instead of “clean your room,” try “Would you mind bringing down the dishes from your room so we can get the dishwasher going?” Or you could ask them to collect their trash in preparation for trash day. Also consider making a request like; “you don’t need to shower but would you mind brushing your hair before school tomorrow?”


Depending on your dynamic with your child, they may or may not want your help. If they do, ask if they would be okay with you writing a simple to do list to help them get started. When writing this list, be very granular. Instead of “clean room” write down “put towels in hamper,” “put shoes in basket,'' “pick up clothes from floor.” That way every task feels like an accomplishment for your child; because it is.


Another helpful tip we found was to set a cleaning timer. Tell your child you just need them to clean for X amount of time, think 5 or 10 minutes to start, and when the timer is done they can be done for the day. This will help them from feeling overwhelmed with the task because no matter how exhausting it is for them to clean; they know exactly when they will be able to stop.


3. Convenience over aesthetics

You’ve worked very hard to make sure your child has a roof over their head and a bed to sleep in at night. We don’t blame you for wanting that bed to be made and their room to be clean. But if your child is struggling with depression you need to let go of your version of clean and adapt it to their current needs.


If your child struggles brushing their teeth, keep a toothbrush, water bottle, and cup by their bedside table so that they don’t feel like it is a big task to get up and do it. We know you might not want all of this sitting on your child’s bedside table and making the room look cluttered but in this case convenience should trump aesthetics. Same goes for the overall cleanliness of their room. If your child operates better having one chair that they keep all of their favorite clean clothes on and it is a system that works for them; let them do it. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good, let them have a “clean room” in their own way that is set up to make their lives easier, not to look clean. Maybe that means when guests come over you just close your child’s door, and that is okay.


As for personal hygiene, maybe it’s washing their hair that makes your child dread showering. I know that I have very long and thick hair and when I wash it it is a huge chore to make sure it is detangled and dries in a nice way. Perhaps you could buy them some shower caps and let them know that not every shower needs to be a hair washing shower. This may give them the motivation to get in there and get clean - which is what you are ultimately looking for. Try and think of some potential barriers that your child may be avoiding and see what you can do to minimize them.

A lit small candle burning on a table with a blurred background.

4. Get something for them to look forward to

Everyone loves getting a new product that they are excited to try out. I know when I buy a new skin care or hair product I can’t wait to use it. Try thinking about how you can make your child’s time practicing good hygiene fun and exciting for them. Maybe they really love the smell of vanilla and a vanilla scented bath bomb could be just the thing that gets them to bathe this week. Perhaps they have seen a new face wash on Tik Tok that they have been intrigued by. Getting it could ensure that they wash their face today.


You could also use this tip to help ensure that their room stays tidy. Buy them really good smelling cleaning products, room diffusers, or candles that they can use once their space is a bit cleaner. These tend to have a calming effect and can help your child feel good about having a clean space.


This does NOT mean you need to break the bank to ensure that your child has something to look forward to. Drugstores and dollar stores sell candles, incense, bath products, and skin care products. You also don’t want to waste your money on a product that your child ultimately doesn’t use, so before you place a huge online order at Ulta or Target, get one or two small things to see if it helps. Purchasing sample or smaller sizes can give you frequent opportunities to "surprise" them with a new exciting find without breaking the bank.


5. Simplify, simplify, simplify

When someone is struggling with depression they don’t need an 8 step skin care routine. This is a time to streamline cleanliness to make sure that your child’s basic cleanly needs are being met.


If a shower is out of the question for your child’s energy level certain days, maybe try and stock up on some products that can help. Dry shampoo, deodorant, body wipes, disposable toothbrushes/mouthwash, and scented lotions can all help make your child feel and appear cleaner if they don’t have the energy to shower. Consider getting a few of these items and put them in a place where they are easily accessible. Like we mentioned, they may be embarrassed and it is better if they don’t have to ask where these are - because they may not. You want them right where they can use them when they need them.


These tips aren't just for with your children under 18. If you're sending your child off to college or they're moving out on their own and they've struggled in the past, creating a gift basket with some convenience products can be a welcome relief. Sharing trial sizes and samples you pick up while shopping, let's your adult child know you're thinking about them and support them even when you don't see them everyday.


If this topic resonated you; take a moment to breathe. We know it can be overwhelming when your child is struggling with their mental health. But, you are already on the right path to helping them by just reading this article. As mentioned, take the tips that you think could work for your family and give them a try. If you'd like personalized support from one of our Family Support Partners to help brainstorm ideas to help your child, give us a call at 570-664-8615 or learn more here.


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