It’s a sad but common thing to make split-second judgements based on a person’s looks. We all do it, even when we try our best not to. That’s why it’s important to think twice before coming to a firm conclusion about someone after only seeing their outward appearance, because you just never know what’s going on in a person’s mind.
As much as we remind ourselves of this, sometimes we need to be reminded by an external force. Today that force comes in the form of Milly Smith, a health advocate and mother in the U.K., who’s using Instagram to show the world that mental illness takes on many different faces. And you can’t always tell what that face will look like.
The 24-year-old posted a split-screen photo of herself to demonstrate that point. In one picture she’s makeup-free and huddled with her arms wrapped around herself. In the other she seems more glamorous and happy thanks to some makeup and a gorgeous outfit, looking ready to hit the town. So what do these two pictures have in common?
In both of them, she’s suicidal.
“‘You don’t look suicidal.’ I remember these words coming from the doctor’s mouth right after I’d just told him that I was having thoughts of suicide,” Smith writes. “Those words nearly cost me my life, that judgment, those stupid stupid words… This is the danger of thinking mental health has a face, a look. This is how stigma, ignorance and judgement towards mental health/suicide affects [others]. In both these photos I’m suicidal, perhaps not in the same way but on both of these days I had suicidal thoughts racing around.”
It’s hard to imagine a health care professional writing off a young person’s plea for help in this way, but it obviously sat with Smith for a long, long time. Years later, she attempted to overdose in a bid to take her own life, and even then she didn’t think she fit the bill for help. Today she’s able to share her story, which isn’t a unique one, it seems.
“My boss told me that I didn’t look depressed. I have never felt so silly in my life. I read this and cried, thank you for sharing,” one user responded to the post, which has been liked nearly 23,000 times since it was posted on September fourth.
“Unfortunately this is something I hear all too often,” someone else posted. “I think there are a lot of reasons for this, but regardless, it’s a real problem. Every time I see stories like your encounter with your doctor, I am reminded of the kind of doctor I will not be.”
It’s a pretty big reminder that not all depression is immediately apparent, and that the mind is a pretty powerful thing. Writing off someone else’s feelings as invalid or wrong simply because their looks don’t match up with what we think depression should look like can be damaging. So thank you, Milly — we all needed this reminder.
In the meantime, if you or someone you know is suffering from depression or having suicidal thoughts, the good news is that there’s a variety of support groups out there. Reach out to your family doctor or local mental health team to schedule an appointment, because you definitely aren’t alone. No matter how much lipstick you’re wearing that day.