When Depression Makes You Seem Like a Messy Person

Pierre Van ZylHeal, Health Awareness, Mental Health, Personal Growth + Development

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Depression is a mental health problem that many of us experience. And it’s on the rise. From 2005-2015, the number of cases of depression worldwide increased by nearly a fifth. This could be due to many factors, but it is believed an increase in isolation (especially for those aged 60-74) and rising stress levels are partially to blame. (Jowit, J)

In the states alone, diagnosis rose 33%, with an increase of 63% in adolescents (12-17-year-olds). So for the youngest and oldest of our generation, times are tough. (Lardieri, A)

Symptoms of Depression

Common symptoms experienced are:

  • feeling anxious or hopeless
  • feeling especially frustrated or angry
  • feeling low on a consistent basis for longer than 2 weeks
  • fatigue or low energy or motivation
  • trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • insomnia
  • an unusual increase or decrease in appetite or amount of sleep
  • suicidal thoughts (call a doctor, someone who can support you or 911 if you’re worried)

High-functioning depression

One of the less known brands of depression is called dysthymia – high-functioning depression. It affects 1.5% of Americans and is the kind of depression that mostly goes under the radar because it is so well hidden. (Amanstein, S.)

Many of those who are feeling down on a regular basis carry on with their lives without seeming to have a problem at all. It can be challenging to diagnose, as these individuals look like they have everything together in their life. If they have no issues then why should they need to seek help?

It can feel very lonely when everything seems perfect on the outside, and yet we feel awful on the inside. The point is, that our inner lives matter, too. Sometimes a lot more than our outer experiences. This is just like how we really feel doesn’t equate to our social media status. So it’s always good to check in with yourself and to get help if you think you need it.

Being ‘messy’ and being depressed

Other people suffering from depression find a similar problem when they lose motivation. They can be seen as lazy. At a time in your life when you lose interest in the things that used to fill you with excitement, you find yourself not wanting to get out of bed in the morning.

If you loved painting before or meeting with friends, now everything just seems grey and unimportant. This can mean that doing household chores isn’t exactly at the top of your list. The washing stacks up, the laundry hasn’t been done, and clothes litter the floor. To an outsider, this can seem nonsensical. But during a depressive stage, just making it to the fridge can be an achievement.

This misjudgment of a depressed person as ‘lazy’ does not help them to feel any better as they grapple with the illness they are already facing. Asking them to clean, would be like asking someone with a broken leg to get up and do the housework. And the thing you want to hear the least is confirmed to you by the ones you love: ‘You’re lazy,’ ‘just buck up,’ ‘shake yourself out of it.’

Sara Peterson’s story

Sara Peterson experienced just that in her past relationships and posted an inspiring blog post about the perception people have of depressive messiness. She explains that she isn’t a lazy person – she’s depressed. And when she isn’t depressed, she organizes everything, cleans the pantry, keeps everything shipshape. It’s only when she is depressed that she can’t bring herself anywhere near the vacuum: “One of the biggest clues that I’m slipping into a depressive episode is when I can’t be bothered to move the clothing pile on my bed after a week, and I end up sleeping in it.” (Peterson, S)

She urges people to think about the true meaning of her behavior; “Most people see my mess, my clutter, and assume they know why it’s the way it is. But in reality, I think my mess has always been a scream for help that nobody ever noticed.” (Peterson, S) 

How to help your loved one who is depressed

So what to do if your loved one appears to have the ‘messy’ kind of depression?

Cut them some slack – while it can be frustrating to live with someone who doesn’t clean, or to see the mess when you are a neat freak, don’t mock or judge them. Ever. This doesn’t help them to feel better about themselves and doesn’t help the situation, either.

Support and understanding – If it’s a close friend you are likely to know about their depression and so seeing their mess as a symptom, rather than a personality default, will help a lot. Reassure them that you understand how hard it can be.

Be there – While you can’t be the one to cure their depression, having someone around, can help a lot. If they don’t feel like moving, just sit with them, you don’t even have to talk. Any way you can say ‘I’m here for you’ can make a big difference to their lives.

Check in with them regularly – Depressive periods can mean that they do not have the motivation or energy to call you or contact you like they usually do. Making sure they are ok during this time not only shows them you care, but it also means you can be sure they are safe.

Help them clean! – Offer to clean their place for them a little. If there are a few of you, you can make a day of it and entirely turn the place around. This shows just how much you care. The cleaner surroundings may even help them to feel a little better about their depression. The smallest of gestures can make all the difference. If you can get them involved in the task, even better as their confidence will grow.


There are many forms of depression, with some being more well-hidden than others. We never really know what is going on for other people, and what burden a stranger may be carrying.

So, as Ellen Degeneres always says, ‘be kind.’

Amanstein, S. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.psycom.net/high-functioning-depression/

Jowit, J. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/jun/04/what-is-depression-and-why-is-it-rising

Lardieri, A. (2018) Retrieved from https://www.usnews.com/news/health-care-news/articles/2018-05-10/diagnosis-of-major-depression-on-the-rise-especially-in-teens-and-millennials

Lehmann, H. E. (1959) Psychiatric Concepts of Depression: Nomenclature and Classification Retrieved from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/070674375900401S01

Peterson, S. (2018) Retrieved from https://themighty.com/2018/03/depression-cant-clean-messy/?fbclid=IwAR3JdsnO46p9NbcclD2GUAy3SlTHqjKscBB_YKaW_rvi4ZVnufvQtFjpQ8

Snaith, P. R. (2003) Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. Retrieved from journal https://hqlo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1477-7525-1-29

WebMD (2018) Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/depression-symptoms-and-types


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