We may be more willing to talk about anxiety and depression, but many of us are still in desperate need of mental health education. We need the language to describe what we’re feeling, we need to break down the idea that mental health issues can be fixed by going for a ‘brisk walk’, and we need to remind people that it’s more than OK not to be OK, because other people are struggling too.
Most of all, we need to recognise that no two people’s experiences of a mental health condition are the same – and that the symptoms can manifest themselves in a multitude of ways, some of which we are far less attuned to.
Which is why Kayley Olsson, a student hairdresser in Waterloo, Iowa, decided to share a Facebook post about a girl who visited her salon with tangled and matted hair.
“Today I had one of the hardest experiences – I had a 16-year-girl come in who has been dealing with severe depression for a few years now,” Olsson writes in the post, which has been shared over 193,000 times.
Olsson goes on to explain that the teen told her she “felt so down and so worthless she couldn't even brush her hair”, and that she “only got up to use the restroom.”
The teenager was due to start back at school in a few weeks time - and her class photographs had already been booked into her timetable.
Unable to face the pain of combing out her hair, she pleaded with Olsson to shave off her matted knots, but the hairdresser refused. Instead, she and her colleague, Mariah Wenger, took it upon themselves to carefully brush out the teen’s waist-length hair and style it up for her.
“She called herself worthless, and it honestly broke my heart, says Olsson, “so we tried everything we could to keep this child's hair for her!”
Over the course of two days, Olsson and Wenger spent 13 hours untangling the teen’s hair – and, as they did so, they chatted to her comfortingly and encouragingly, in a bid to boost the schoolgirl’s self-esteem.
“At the end of the day I want this to be a lesson to people,” writes Olsson. “Mental health affects people all around the world and of all ages. Parents, please 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.”
The hairdresser adds: “After being here for eight hours yesterday and five hours today, we finally made this beautiful girl smile and feel like she is worth something.
“Her last words to me were, ‘I will actually smile for my schools pictures today, you made me feel like me again’.”
Olsson’s story has taken the internet by storm, with many thanking the hairdresser for taking the time to shine a light on one of the lesser-known side-effects of depression.
Revealing that she herself has battled with the mental health condition, Olsson told the BBC: “I knew I had to help her, just like people helped me.
“We all deserve to feel beautiful.”
Mental health is an issue that affects many of us, but women in particular can be vulnerable to it: the most recent figures from the NHS show that one in five women in the UK have reported a mental illness in recent years, compared to one in eight men.
While the symptoms of depression can be complex and vary widely between different people, doctors have said that the most common is that “you feel sad, hopeless, and lose interest in things you used to enjoy”.
Other symptoms include:
- Low self-esteem
- Feeling tearful
- Feeling irritable
- Finding it difficult to make decisions
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Low sex drive
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Difficulties with concentration
There are many other symptoms of depression and you’re unlikely to experience all of them at once.
Mental health experts advise that you visit your GP if you experience symptoms of depression for most of the day, every day, for more than two weeks.
You can find out more information – including a series of approved self-care tips – on the Mind website.