Sadness. Tearfulness. Bursts of anger. Irritability. These are some of the most well-known signs of depression. But they aren’t the only ones. More and more experts recognize that some people with depression may look or even act happy. While this condition doesn’t have a name in the official diagnostic manual for mental disorders, many people refer to it as smiling depression or masked depression.
Signs of Smiling Depression
Worldwide, about 265 million people live with depression, according to the World Health Organization. Someone masking their depression with a smile may feel like showing signs of how they feel is a sign of weakness or that sharing their true feelings would burden their friends and family. Others may not even think they are depressed or believe others have it worse, so why should they complain?
Some experts feel people with smiling depression may be at a higher risk of suicide because they may have more energy and motivation to act on any thoughts of self-harm.
Signs that may indicate someone is hiding their depression include:
- Changes in appetite and weight
- Sleep issues, from insomnia to sleeping during the day
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities they usually enjoy
It is also possible for someone to have high-functioning depression. This term is used to describe someone whose depression isn’t debilitating. They can still function, unlike someone with major depressive disorder (MDD), who may not be able to get out of bed some days. Someone with MDD may struggle to maintain their hygiene or be unable to perform tasks in school or at work.
Why Does Someone Hide Depression?
There can be any number of reasons why someone may choose to hide that they are depressed. Sometimes someone with smiling depression may not even realize that they are depressed. Some other reasons are:
- Fear of burdening others — They may not know how to ask for help, especially if they are used to caring for others.
- Embarrassment — They may view depression as a character flaw and think they can snap out of it or handle it themselves.
- Denial — Some people think if they are smiling, nothing is wrong.
- Fear of backlash — They may believe they will lose their job or partner if they admit to being depressed.
- Concern about appearing weak — Individuals may fear they will be taken advantage of because of their depression.
- Guilt — Some believe they are to blame for their depression or have no reason to feel bad.
- Unrealistic views of happiness — Many people view social media and believe no one else is suffering, leaving them feeling isolated.
- Perfectionists — These individuals hide their pain because they do not want to admit their life isn’t perfect.
The Difference Between Sadness and Depression
Everyone feels sad from time to time. Sadness is an emotion, and it is fleeting. Depression, however, is a mental health condition. It is more intense and lasting than a bout of sadness.
Because depression is a mental health condition and not an emotion, it is entirely possible that someone could be depressed and still feel happiness. The ability to be depressed and happy simultaneously can also depend on the type of depression someone has or how severe their depression symptoms are. Finally, other co-occurring health conditions can impact how someone experiences depression.
Treating Smiling Depression
Emotions like happiness or sadness are not permanent, and they are not always logical. No matter what form of depression someone may be dealing with, it is important to talk to a doctor and honestly detail any symptoms. This allows the doctor to rule out any health issues that may be contributing to the feelings of depression and suggest other providers that can help, such as a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.
Medications can treat most forms of depression, but they often take several weeks to take full effect. Talk therapy or psychotherapy is another option for treating this and other forms of depression. Options for therapy include cognitive, psychodynamic, group, interpersonal, and family therapy.
Learning tools to manage stress may also help, as can changes to diet and exercise habits. Eating healthy and nutritious foods may lessen some depression symptoms. Regular physical activity can help manage depression or even prevent it.
A licensed mental health and substance abuse intensive outpatient program (IOP) in Scottsdale, Arizona, Rising Phoenix was created to offer a safe, welcoming, and nurturing environment where clients are not judged, but embraced, throughout their recovery process.