As fun as fashion is, I think a fictional radio host and his chorus girls got it right when they sang, “It’s what you wear from ear to ear / and not from head to toe / that matters.” And I don’t mean sparkly pearly whites, either. What matters most is that you’re content enough on the inside to show it on the outside—with, of course, a smile.
Genuine, raised-corners-of-the-mouth, crow’s feet-creating smiles—called Duchenne smiles after the French neurologist who identified them—are the real outfit-finishing accessory. Not just because of the positive effect they have on those around you, but because of what they reveal about you: that you’re happy.
Considering almost everyone is physically capable of a Duchenne, this finishing touch is, for some, the hardest part of their ensemble to put on. Because when you’re down beyond the happens-to-everybody-sometimes blues, and trapped in that deep, dark well of depression where even your favorite designers aren’t going to lift your mood, genuine smiles just aren’t on the menu. I know—I’ve been there.
Luckily, I happened to be on a university campus at the time, with counselors at my fingertips and mental health campaigns happening almost constantly. It took me a while, but when I was ready to reach out, all that was required was a stroll across campus. It wasn’t instant happiness, but it was an important first step.
Out in the real world, it’s not always so easy to get help. Stigmas abound, and finding good, affordable, accessible help can be hard—especially in a foreign country. Just the thought of looking up your options is exhausting and overwhelming, and at first glance, it can seem as though, for non-Japanese speakers, the options are slim to nil.
But Tokyo isn’t devoid of good English counseling, nor services for those with other mother tongues. Even expats and immigrants in the far reaches of Japan’s island chain can access many of Tokyo’s mental health professionals thanks to Skype and other video chat software.
Best known, of course, is TELL, that longstanding lifeline of the foreign community, which offers telephone counseling as well as face-to-face and distance counseling services. There’s also International Mental Health Professionals Japan (IMHPJ), an interdisciplinary network of mental health professionals of various nationalities, as well as The Japan Helpline. Depending on the professional, distance counseling may be an option.
If you’re not quite ready to see someone, there are myriad online groups that offer support, which can be an important stepping stone to finding the motivation required to pick up the phone (or tablet) to find a professional.
Mental health gets a lot of press in spring, what with May being Mental Health Awareness Month, but the fall also has a smattering of important mental health-related awareness days to keep in mind. September 10 was World Suicide Prevention Day, World Mental Health Day is October 10, and International Survivors of Suicide Loss Day—for those who have lost loved ones to suicide—is November 21. In the United States, National Depression Screening Day is October 8. And with the days getting shorter, and SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) soon to be upon some of us, it’s a good time of year to put some serious thought into your mental health.
It really doesn’t matter if your dress is Alexander McQueen (though that’d be nice) or off-the-rack Uniqlo, or whether your outfit is from “Main Street or Saville Road.” What matters is that you’re happy enough to show it.
As the Boylan Sisters sing in Annie, “Though you may wear the best / you’re never fully dressed without a smile.”