In order to fully discover the impact that fashion and clothing has on our wellbeing, we took one quote from psychiatry professor, Raphael Bonelli and we asked two established figures within the Mental Health Community three questions to delve deeper into the link between choice of dress and mental health.
What were your initial thoughts after reading this quote?
I found this quote insightful as it merges the worlds of the psychology of fashion with the psychology around mental health and wellbeing. I believe that the quote is powerful because it highlights those subtle changes that can be present for someone who may be experiencing difficult times and whose mental health is not at its best. It’s relatable.
I think we all can think about times when we wanted to stay put in our pyjamas, not want to wear makeup or even drag on the nearest thing we can find when we aren’t feeling great. In contrast, we can think about when we make an extra special effort to dress well to impress, celebrate occasions or look great on
holiday. Whether we like it or not, particular types of clothing does communicate many things about the person we are or the person we would like to be and it is all a part of our identity and how we feel about ourselves.
As a mental health advocate, would you say that the appearance of others, is always deemed as a cry for help?
Not always. It also depends on how well you know the person. For example, I have a friend that absolutely loves fashion and always dresses to impress and if suddenly one day I saw her dressed less than how she usually presents – I may ask questions because that would be so unlike her, but for another friend who isn’t too concerned about appearance, I may not ask that question.
I have also worked in mental health settings and hygiene and appearance can become one of the clear signs that someone is experiencing something. With some things like depression a sense of helplessness and loss of interest in activities can present itself in our appearance.
One may feel like there is no point in making an effort to present well as they may believe for example that they won’t be going out anyway or they don’t have any loved ones to impress or enjoy activities with anyway. The loss of motivation can impact on our appearance and how we value ourselves, but this isn’t always 100% true for everyone.
How do you think style of dress impacts people within the mental health field?
Working in the world of Psychology, I can say that from people I have come to know, some are very intentional in how they present themselves. Some choose to be simplistic and some have a set wardrobe of clothing – almost like a uniform. Myself, I choose to be 100% expressive in what I wear when working with clients and young people especially. I am aware that I represent something and I communicate something.
For me, it is important that people can relate to me and don’t feel closed off. I love to wear bright colours as I find it creates a warm atmosphere with people I work with. I find often people are suddenly relieved when they see me because they often have felt they were going to be met with someone who presents as very “authoritative” which can be a scary experience if it is your first time accessing mental health services. I think Psychology is such a person-centred profession and so professionals should just dress in a way that is suitable but also presents who they are as a person too.
❝Many people have no idea that their clothes can play such a significant role in their mood
Astin Wangel-Brown is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in Los Angeles. She has received specialized training as a Certified Couples and Family Therapist. She uses her expertise in relational therapy and evidence-based solution focused treatment in supporting clients to clarify, create and act on goals for desired change.
As a therapist, how much does the appearance of others impact your assessment of them?
There are so many social factors that impact appearance and how appearance is perceived that judging one’s mental health on appearance should only be one part of a much more involved assessment. With this being said, yes I might at least become curious about possible symptoms such as depression if a person is disheveled and maybe even anxiety if the person is impeccably groomed.
What is your opinion on the first sentence of Bonelli’s quote?
So it’s actually the first sentence that I struggled with most. On one hand, yes, absolutely, withdrawal and disinterest are primary symptoms of depression and this commonly manifests with us not showering or getting dressed for the day or not being
invested in our appearance at all. Some symptoms of psychosis can manifest in us layering clothes and using objects and materials that are not meant to be worn to dress ourselves. So yes, there is truth to this statement!
How do you think style of dress impacts people within the mental health field
Again, because I think appearance and dress should be looked at psychologically and socially at once, it feels difficult to answer this simply. I think therapists also practice mental health and wellness daily for themselves and their dress can be affected by how they are feeling just like anyone else.
I believe dress and wardrobe education is necessary for empowering people to choose the clothing items that make them look and feel like their best self. Without this information, many people have no idea that their clothes can play such a significant role in their mood or that their wardrobe telling a story about their mood.