This Teen's Story Gets Unflinchingly Honest About Depression

by Madeleine Aggeler

Katelyn Marie Todd didn’t want to hug people. The 17-year-old was in the midst of a month-long depression that made it difficult to maintain her personal hygiene, and she knew she smelled bad. Then one day, the depression cracked — not completely, just a little, just enough for Katelyn to do something she hadn’t done in weeks: brush her hair. Katelyn shared a picture with a post about brushing her hair while dealing with depression, and it has gone viral for its honest and unflinching representation of dealing with mental health issues.

“I brushed my hair today,” Katelyn wrote in the post, which has been shared over 280,000 times. “For the first time in 4 weeks. It was matted and twisted together. It snapped and tore with every stroke. I cried while I washed and conditioned it, because I forgot how it felt to run my fingers through it. I brushed my teeth, too, for the first time in a week. My gums bled. My water ran red. I cried over that as well.”

Katelyn’s post has resonated with thousands, and many of the over 22,000 comments include other people’s struggles with mental illness and self-care.

“This is me at the moment. Thank you for sharing XXX,” one woman wrote.

“As someone who is going through this right now, it feels nice to know I’m not so alone that someone can pinpoint exactly how this feels its incredible. Thank you. Thank. You,” another shared.

With depression, as with so many mental illnesses, the discussion tends to center around the psychological experience of disease — the sadness, the despair, the lack of motivation — and too often the physical aspects are overlooked, specifically personal hygiene. An individual struggling through a major depressive episode can struggle to perform basic self-care or personal grooming because they don’t feel they are worth the effort.

As clinical psychologist Alicia H. Clark told Self: “Hopelessness sets in, and hopelessness can fuel feelings of worthlessness that preclude a sense of self-pride and respect in a circular way: ‘I am worthless, so why should I bother?’ becomes ‘I can’t be bothered so I feel worthless.’”

Clark says different self-care patterns can be a sign someone is dealing with depression. Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, and the National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 6.7 percent of adults have experiences at least one major depressive episode in the past year. If someone you know is struggling with depression, Clark says the best thing you can do is to be patient and supportive.

“It can be hard to understand how someone could simply not get out of bed or clean themselves, and even harder not to be alarmed by it” she says, “Patience and compassion can help your loved one know you care, as can rational reminders that they are depressed and need help. Offering hope is probably one of the most powerful things you can do.”

Katelyn’s post has offered hope to thousands.

“For years, I felt like I had no one to talk to,” Katelyn told the TODAY show, “I still couldn’t convey it quite perfectly so no one really got the full idea of what I was feeling and it was really lonely. And I don’t want anyone else to feel lonely like that.”