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Does Mental Illness Make You Look Older?

Does mental illness make you look older? - image of a woman's face at three different ages

Mental illness can certainly feel like it ages you, but is the combination of aging and mental illness something that’s visible from the outside? Does mental illness make you look older than you actually are?

Changes over the years

For a good chunk of my adult life, I looked youngish for my age. Not as in babyface, but youngish. When I finished university and started working, most people were a fair bit older than me, which made me look younger by contrast.

In my mid-30s, I didn’t feel like I looked that much different than I did in my 20s. While people say I look like my mom, my features are actually more like my dad. My mom’s hair went grey fairly young, although she dyed it, but my dad didn’t get substantially grey until later in his 60s. My brother, who’s three years younger than I am, started greying and his hairline started receding before I had any grey hairs.

Five years ago, the depression bus ran over me, and I’ve remained trapped under its wheels ever since. It’s made for a bit of a weird intersection of events; natural aging starting to kick in, and treatment-resistant depression sucking the life out of me.

I have grey hairs now. Not a lot, but they’re there. There are more lines on my face. That’s to be expected of someone who’s 41.

The heaviness of depression

But it’s not just that. The light and life is gone from my face; depression stole that. I used to smile a lot, but not now. Partly because there isn’t much to smile about, and partly because psychomotor slowing doesn’t allow for much facial expression. I’ve also given up on doing any of those things that make a person look a little more put together, because I just couldn’t care less.

When I look in the mirror, it’s a different person staring back at me than I remember. The fact that aging has been happening at the same time just amplifies that. I sort of feel like I’m 41 going on 100.

Facing the future

I suppose it’s not surprising that the heaviness of depression weighs on the exterior. It’s weird to think that the length of time theoretically remaining in my life doesn’t match with what I feel. I’ve lived my life, I’m at least 95, and it’s time for this nonsense to be over sometime within the foreseeable future. But yet when I calculate my age (because I don’t know it offhand anymore), 41 doesn’t feel right.

I wonder what face will be looking back at me in 5 years, or 10. Will it be someone I recognize? Or maybe not so much? Hard to say. To be perfectly honest, I would prefer not to be around to find out. No, I’m not suicidal, I just don’t want to do that much more living. Thanks, but no thanks!

Do you feel like circumstances or mental illness have made you look older than you really are?

You may also be interested in the post What Do You See In The Mirror? Does Mental Illness Affect It?

book cover: Managing the Depression Puzzle, 2nd Edition, by Ashley L. Peterson

Managing the Depression Puzzle takes a holistic look at the different potential pieces that might fit into your unique depression puzzle.

It’s available on Amazon and Google Play.

35 thoughts on “Does Mental Illness Make You Look Older?”

  1. When my depression was at it’s worst, I felt very old. However, I looked much younger (I was even mistaken for a teenager when in my late twenties). I think I have a youngish face, but I do have worry lines. My parents say I used to frown in my sleep as a child. I have started going grey, but my hair is quite fair, so it’s not so visible.

  2. This is a great post. Sometimes when depressed, however, looking in the mirror can make you feel better because your internal sense of self is more damaged than your outward appearance indicates.

  3. I too looked much younger than my age for a long time. After my disastrous romance at the end of 2016, I fell into a depression for a year or more. Exact dates are fuzzy, but I know I began coming out of it in 2019. And I looked massively older, maybe just my age, but I was used to looking much younger. I eventually accepted my looks though. I look like a 60 year old woman and there’s nothing wrong with that!

  4. I have always been mistaken for younger than my age, right from my 20’s to late 30’s. I don’t know about now, as no one really said if I look younger than my age, but from 42, I felt my age when I looked in the mirror, compared to feeling younger. I am 44 now. 45 in May time.
    I don’t know if this feeling is because of my mental health or not.
    I posted a photo of me in a tweet. I took it there and then before posting, to show the stress I am under. I felt crap and to me, I look crap and age showing. But if I look in mirror now, as I type this, I look better than that photo.

  5. definitely I feel it! I have grey hairs now too! I feel wise and really old even though I am only 40. I’ve been told I don’t look a day older than 30, but I sure feel it! Xx

  6. So true. I haven’t seen any gray hairs yet, but I have that fun mid-30s combination of acne and wrinkles. I’ve been told I look young (not in a good-looking hot 20 something sense, more of a dorky awkward 15 year old way), but now, I look in the mirror and the dark circles and puffiness under my eyes are just so prominent. I do think being depressed has accelerated these things. In fairness, it could be lack of sleep. I’ve always had terrible sleep habits and it could be finally catching up to me.

  7. we really despise the mirror. Often, we despise our reflection. We don’t look very much. Sometimes we find something we accept in the reflection. The reflection is not the age we think we are; sometimes the gender is not accurate either, though we take steps some days to present more fluidly. No way for us to tell how the illnesses have impacted vs normal aging but we have salt and pepper hair and eyebrows. And less hair where we’d like it and more where we wouldn’t. Honestly, trimming hair from ears has to be the most depressing part of aging appearance for us. Makes us sad but better to eliminate the hair than have it turn us into bilbo baggins (no offense to Skinnyhobit, whom we adore)

    1. Yes, something is wrong with the genome that it feels the need to have hair flowing out of ears and noses. There are other places where hair would be far more useful. I would like to shift all my unnecessary hair down to my feet to keep them warm and cozy. 🐾

  8. Yes I do feel this. For one thing, I am nearing seventy, and I’m sort of “supposed” to age. But the main thing I notice is that the ADD that I’ve always had is morphing into the scatterbrained absent-mindedness that almost everyone in my age group reports. This sometimes frustrates me, because people identify with my “absent-mindedness” whom I know do not understand all the intricacies of an ADHD diagnosis. So sometimes I feel that they falsely identify with me, and that my actual illness is minimized by their perceptions.

  9. I believe depression and also illness ages a person. I started going grey in my mid thirties. My hair is an off white color. My beard is also white if I don’t shave.
    My face however does not have many wrinkles. It is only the past couple of years that the dark and baggy circles under my eyes have appeared. I guess it just may be that for being 59 going to be 60. It truly is ‘all in your genes’…lol

  10. You are not alone Ashley. On bad days I hate seeing myself in the mirror — YUK! On a good day however, I feel lucky that my parents still haven’t gone grey and we’re all fortunately we got mums young looking skin. I’ve just had my teeth whitened (not too bright as in American teeth) and I feel much better about how I look.

  11. Absolutely, when I am feeling well, I feel younger. I have COPD along with Anxieties, both can trigger the other. When my health declines I feel like I am on my last legs, when I can breathe easily I can feel 5-15 years younger (albeit without the ability to run and stuff).

  12. Like anything it depends. I am told all the time I look so much younger than I am, but I feel older. I think it’s just really dependent upon good genes and how you treat your skin and all of those things as well.

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