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Mental Illness & Hygiene: Survey Results

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Photo by Polina Zimmerman on Pexels.com

Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey last week on mental illness and hygiene. Now it’s time for the results!

In order to protect privacy, I’m being somewhat vague in reporting some of the responses. I won’t say exactly how many people responded, but I think it was enough to make the results meaningful.

Showering/bathing

1) How often do you take a shower or bath, on average, at times when you’re experiencing symptoms of your illness?

  • 1/3 responded one or more times per day
  • 1/3 responded every 2-3 days
  • 1/3 responded every 4 days or less
pie chart of showering/bathing frequency responses

2) How often do you think you’d take a shower/bath if mental illness wasn’t an issue?

  • 60% of people said one or more times per day
  • 40% said every 2-3 days

2) What the main thing that typically prompts you to take a shower/bath?

The top three reasons were:

  1. I get concerned I might smell or look unclean
  2. I want to maintain good/decent hygiene
  3. I feel like I should maintain good hygiene even though I don’t want to or don’t care

4) When particularly unwell, do you ever leave showering/bathing until you smell badly enough that it grosses you out?

  • 60% of people said never
  • 16% said yes, occasionally
  • 24% said yes, regularly
pie chart of responses to question about leaving showering/bathing until you smell badly enough to gross you out

Other hygiene

5) How often do you brush your teeth?

  • 44% multiple times a day
  • 32% once a day
  • 24% less often

I realized after looking at the results that I should have asked this question differently to differentiate frequency during illness vs. wellness, and I should have given better options, but it is what it is. I’m actually rather impressed that so many people stay on top of this.


6) Is your frequency of face/body hair management activities (shaving, plucking, etc.) impacted when your mental health isn’t good?

Of those that do this typically:

  • 62% said the frequency decreased
  • 38% said it stayed the same

It would have been interesting to break this down by gender. As a female, when I don’t pluck my eyebrows or shave my legs/armpits, it’s not especially noticeable to others, but for guys to go furry is much more overt.


7) When unwell, do you sleep in your daytime clothes or spend the day in your PJs?

  • 40% regularly
  • 28% sometimes
  • 32% rarely or never
pie chart showing survey responses to whether people sleep in daytime clothes or spend the day in PJs

Overall

8) How does your mental illness influence your hygiene?

I realized I should have set up the responses differently, but anyway, having less energy and caring less were about equal as the top two impacts. Almost 30% of people said it makes showering/bathing feel unpleasant. While in most cases the issue was decreased hygiene, in some cases there was a hyper-focus on maintaining hygiene.


9) Anything else you’d like to share?

I’ll broadly paraphrase some of the points that people shared:

  • Good hygiene can help you to feel good, which can aid in recovery
  • When dealing with multiple mental illness, hygiene can go overboard or get worse depending on which illness is having a flare.
  • It can be hard to make peace with the fact that doing the best you can doesn’t necessarily get you at the level you want to be.
  • Anxiety can make the idea of being dirty distressing.
  • Hot water can help with pain, and that can make showering a good thing.
  • Starting to get itchy can be a prompting factor for showering.
  • Living with someone can be a motivating factor for maintaining hygiene.
  • Washing at the sink can be easier than showering.

Thoughts

None of this really surprised me. I suspect diagnosis makes a difference, with depression, schizophrenia, and schizoaffective disorder likely being the major offenders getting in the way of hygiene. Regardless of diagnosis, though, I think the results pretty clearly show that we’re not alone in our struggles, and I think it’s awesome that so many people were willing to share about a topic that’s not really socially acceptable. Thanks to all who responded!

What do you think of the results? Were there any surprises for you?

23 thoughts on “Mental Illness & Hygiene: Survey Results”

  1. Not really surprised. I’ve lived with mentally ill men and their hygiene definitely decreased when they were sicker than normal (normal for them). As I said (not concerned about privacy), I always shower because it’s the one thing that is guaranteed to make me feel good!

  2. Both my doctor and I feel I do quite good in managing the symptoms of my illness. In the years leading up to my becoming seriously Ill, I showered every day (no exceptions). Things have changed tho with managing serious mental illness, and no matter how good I am at managing my symptoms, engaging in good personal hygiene is difficult. What am I saying? It would be good to do an anonymous survey sometime of people with serious mental illness, because I would like to know how I fare with my hygiene (and other issues) against other people who have the same illness or similar.

  3. Hygiene is the one thing that I don’t let go. Mainly because of my ocd and having my morning “rituals”. A shower is one of the first things I do. And if my ocd is acting up there are times I will take multiple showers in a day.

  4. I would want to shower more, but my energy level is often too low and it takes a lot out of me. Plus due to my sensory issues, I hate the feeling of the water hitting my head and body. So yes, I prefer the sink for both these reasons. I do try to stay on top of it as I try to work out every day. But when pain is higher, and/or MH is struggling, I find I need to really motivate myself to not get smelly or dirty.
    I know you respected privacy. But I’m very open in this so I don’t mind sharing. 😊
    Even though you would have asked some questions differently, it was still very interesting to see the answers broken down by this. Any estimate as to how many people participated? If this doesn’t violate any privacy. 😊
    Have a fabulous day 🌻

      1. Ow wow that’s great! That so many people participated. 😊
        And yes, I’ve never really liked showering and when I got my diagnosis, I started to understand it was part of my sensory issues, which I knew I had but they were never officially confirmed. 😊

  5. Wow. I missed the post where you asked people to take this survey. But, I only recently began following you. That is so cool that you did that and that you were able to compose an interesting post from it. If you do another survey, I’ll be sure to participate.

  6. I think it would have been interesting to see a face/body hair grooming gender split. I could actually see women doing more of this than men, but a lot depends on who you might be seeing and how much you care.

    I feel weird seeing these results. I was expecting to see more gross hygiene neglect depressed people like me and it feels odd seeing that actually, most people are not so gross. I should also say that overall, I’ve been feeling considerably lately. Pessimistic yes, but not so depressed, and showering and changing clothes like a normal person.

    1. The spam filter has been overly excited lately and marked your comment as spam for some reason.

      I suspect that if it was broken down by diagnosis, there would have been more grossness among depressed people and substantially less among people with anxiety disorders.

      1. Ahh that makes sense. I was worried I had offended you, either with the judgmental language of grossness (I include myself in this, but I can see how someone might feel shame) or by my actual poor depression hygiene habits. But yes, a split by diagnosis/condition type might show trends differently

  7. I am surprised a little. Just the fact that you were prompted to poll it, made me think that the majority of people with mental illness apparently struggle with it. That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case (for whatever reason). For me, in any state of mind, a good shower makes me feel like a different person, so it’s hard for me to fully understand how people could possibly not like showering or bathing.

    1. I think diagnosis plays a role, and I really should have put a question about that on the survey. I think hygiene issues are more common in people with depression-related fatigue and/or apathy.

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