Mental health can be gross, but maybe it's just misunderstood

Examining different symptoms of mental illness, and how it can effect people's health, hygiene and self-image

by Kendall Vorhis / Garnet & Black

Student names have been omitted due to the sensitivity of the subject matter.

Every college student experiences messy rooms, late assignments and dirty dishes at least once in their four years, but for some, these could be more than just an every-so-often occurrence. One-in-four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 have some form of diagnosable mental illness and, often, these disorganized areas of life present themselves as symptoms. 

Kate Weaver, the Program Coordinator for Mental Health Initiatives, says that in a lot of ways, it is withdrawal that causes these symptoms to continue. Withdrawal, in this case, refers to the isolation of self, and the side effects that can go with that. “Any kind of mood disorder can cause that; where its really hard to just do the basic things that you would normally not think about doing in a day,” Weaver said. She says this in reference to the difficulty people have when confronted with a mental health episode. These basic tasks can include basic hygiene, she says, something that can be embarrassing and difficult to talk about with peers. 

One second-year student with depression agrees: “I’ve always been afraid of my friends finding out how bad it can get sometimes, you know? Sometimes it’s hard for me to even get out of bed and shower for two weeks.” With that, clothing stops being put away, dishes pile up and trash remains on the bedside table. 

Kendall Vorhis / Garnet & Black

This “gross” effect mental health can have on people actually stems from the abundance of psychological side effects that cause them. Apathy, problems in concentration, heightened fatigue and an increased sensitivity to the senses can lead to people not being able to complete basic tasks for health and hygiene. This can include people not taking showers, brushing their teeth, cleaning up after themselves or keeping up with assignments and their social life. 

Outside of unhygienic symptoms, some students say there are a lot of mental illnesses that create symptoms that, while not necessarily gross, are misunderstood or stigmatized. One third-year student has been diagnosed with OCD, anxiety, depression and ADHD at different points in their life. “People are mostly understanding about a panic attack or a depressive episode, but when I'm struggling with organization or time management I find that I'm considered lazy.” 

The push-back from what they call a “neurotypical society” is one of the main things they wish could be changed. For many people suffering from mental illness, it’s not that they are being lazy or neglectful. Instead, people with certain diagnoses simply have a different or particular way of completing tasks that could be seen as unconventional. 

Some symptoms not talked about stem directly from certain disorders that are still stigmatized themselves. Weaver mentions that any of the personality disorders, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are still hard to bring up due to the way that people view them. From media representation alone, these disorders are viewed as “crazy” or “psychotic,” so people tend to shy away from discussing the side effects out of the fear of the unknown. 

The third-year student mentions that they “wish that people understood mental illnesses with more externally noticeable symptoms, like hallucinations, a lot better.” Hallucinations, disembodied voices and extreme mood or personality shifts are all side effects that can cause people to feel isolated in their experiences, and, due to the stigma surrounding them, some may not feel comfortable coming forward when those start to appear. 

For college-age students, it is not unlikely that these could start during their years in school. The American Psychiatric Association says three-quarters of mental illness begins by age 24, and while people may “begin to recognize small changes or a feeling that ‘something is not quite right’ about their thinking, feelings or behavior,” it takes time to understand that there could be a larger issue at hand. 

Kendall Vorhis / Garnet & Black

Destigmatizing symptoms and the discussion of those that are not generally accepted can lead to a more widespread understanding of mental illness and those suffering from it. One second-year student with Bipolar Disorder said they were afraid of what their friend’s reactions would be when they disclosed their illness because they thought they would be deemed crazy or unstable. “I wish people knew that, just because my brain sometimes is a little different, doesn’t mean I’m not a not a normal, functioning human being.” 

It’s important to remember that symptoms are on a spectrum, and they are specific to the person who is going through it. One person’s personal journey with depression can be completely different from someone else’s, so it’s imperative to be patient in understanding the different levels of complexity and difficulty they could be dealing with. 

The third-year student says that, similar to many of their peers who have been diagnosed with mental health issues, “I’m not ashamed of it and I’m proud to say I’ve lived through it, but I sure wish I didn’t have to.” Mental health can be a scary thing to deal with, especially when everyone is just as afraid to confront the issues at hand as the person going through it is. People shouldn't have to be ashamed of their symptoms and to get the help they need, we can't keep hiding them. 

Those dealing with mental health issues can reach out to their primary physician, or contact the student mental health services at 803-777-5223.