Kayley Olsson could easily tell you about her hardest day at work.
The hairdresser based in Waterloo, Iowa, recently made headlines after refusing to shave a depressed teenager’s head. Instead, she spent two days cutting and styling it.
Posting the story on Facebook, Olsson said she met the 16-year-old teen with severe depression at her place of work on August 8.
“She got to the point where she felt so down and so worthless she couldn’t even brush her hair, she told me she only got up to use the restroom. She starts back at school in a few weeks but she has her school pictures today,” she wrote on the social media site.
“When she walked in she told us just cut it all off I can’t deal with the pain of combing it out, she called herself worthless for it. It honestly broke my heart and we tried everything we could to keep this child’s hair for her,” she continued.
Olsson said she spent 13 hours over two days working on the teenager’s matted hair. “We finally made this beautiful girl smile and feel like she IS worth something! Her last words to me was, ‘I will actually smile for my school picture today, you made me feel like me again.'”
In the post, which had over 195,000 likes and 75,000 shares, Olsson adds it’s important for parents to realize what mental health can do to a child’s day-to-day hygiene.
“MENTAL HEALTH is a thing, it affects people all around the world and of all ages! PARENTS take it seriously, don’t just push your kids off and tell them to get over something they legitimately can’t. A CHILD should NEVER feel so worthless to not even want to brush their hair.”
Social media responds to her kindness
On Facebook, thousands of readers celebrated Olsson, not only for sharing her story but also for raising awareness about depression in general.
“You made her feel cared for and respected, even though you were strangers. A simple act of kindness (and this one doesn’t look like it was simple at all) can make all the difference between life and death,” user Jessi Piek wrote.
Some even shared their own personal stories with matted hair.
“My hair has gotten like this. I was in her shoes the end of 2016… I was severely depressed/stressed out. I wasn’t taking care of myself. It physically hurt everything in me to lift my arms to brush my hair… I chopped both of them out with scissors and vowed to never do this to my hair again. My hair was uneven and ugly. Still have this side piece that hangs weird I have to pin up to hide it. But I’m doing a little better in life,” user Heather Pozek wrote.
“A year ago I went through a strong depression… however, a red lipstick helped me regain my self-esteem. Thanks for making the change on that girl. You gave me back faith in humanity,” Carmen Reyes wrote.
Mental health and hygiene
Kerrin Daniels, a counsellor based in Mississauga, Ont., says people with mental health disorders who don’t pay attention to personal hygiene may feel a sense of disconnection to the world around them.
“The thoughts or opinions of others mean nothing and in fact, individuals stop caring about themselves,” she tells Global News. “Washing would be a sign that they care about themselves enough to honour themselves/their bodies by cleaning. Depressive symptoms effects work, [and] family life.”
If a mental health illness is affecting your day-to-day hygiene, it’s time to reach out for help, adds Daniels. “So many people feel off, unhappy or not contented. The key is to make mental health a priority.”
Not being able to do things like brush your hair and teeth often stems from the difficulty of getting out of bed in the first place. If you are in this situation, Daniels suggests asking for time off. “For some this is difficult but it is necessary for healing. Depression doesn’t go away without work.”
But she also recommends different mechanisms for managing depression.
Get a good amount of sleep, exercise and find support from others around you — whether that be a professional or a family member.
Where to get help
If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In the case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.
The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.