Think you can recognize someone suffering from depression? They look sad, right? Or down and emotionless? They probably don’t talk much or seem interested in things. If you look hard enough you can see that they’re depressed, right? Nope, not always.
In fact, it can sometimes be really difficult to tell when someone’s suffering from depression. Especially if they have what’s referred to as smiling depression.
What Is Smiling Depression?
It’s not difficult to guess what smiling depression is, the definition is in the name. While smiling depression isn’t a clinical diagnosis, it’s a very real issue and recognized by most psychologists.
Someone dealing with smiling depression doesn’t just hide their pain from others, the mask it completely by literally smiling and appearing happy and functional. They may actually mask it so well that they actively ignore their own symptoms, not acknowledging the pain they feel and are hiding is a problem.
This particular manifestation of depression often affects ambitious over-achievers and those who are accustomed to being in control. They may even go to great lengths to counter what they’re feeling inside with opposite behaviors, like working hard in the extreme to be highly productive or seeming almost unnaturally upbeat and positive. All behaviors that are contrary to what most of us would identify as indicative of depression.
How To Recognize Smiling Depression
So, are all super motivated, high-achieving, overly positive people suffering with smiling depression? No, of course not, but some may be. The problem comes in recognizing when all those seemingly positive behaviors are an act and hiding a deeper problem.
Because smiling depression is so difficult to recognize it can be particularly dangerous. People suffering from it often do such a good job hiding their feelings that warning signs for things like suicide are hard to see. And since these people handle their feelings by being overly active, they may also be more apt to follow through on suicidal thoughts, leaving those around them thinking, “I never saw it coming.”
So, how can you recognize smiling depression before things go too far?
Although easy to overlook, smiling depression does have symptoms to watch for. If you’re concerned about someone that seems to be working hard to seem “okay”, look for the following signs:
• Mood swings. A person with smiling depression can have bi-polar like tendencies. It’s not the same as being bi-polar, but they may have surges in energy and enthusiasm that are followed by a deflated attitude. Repressing painful feelings can be exhausting, so once energy starts to run low the feelings they’re trying to avoid can start to bubble up.
• Lack of personal connection or intimacy. Being close to someone means opening up and sharing intimate thoughts and feelings. A person with smiling depression may seem happy and buoyant, but they will often avoid really getting close to anyone. Most of their relationships will be superficial or centered on the other person.
• Changes in weight. As with the depression we’re all generally familiar with, a person with smiling depression can experience changes in appetite and weight (up or down).
• Lack of interest in social situations. Even though they seem happy, smiling depression can leave those who are suffering uncomfortable in social situations. It can feel like it’s just too much to go and continue the charade preferring instead to be alone where they no longer have to put on a smile and seem positive.
• Immersive behavior. We’ve all seen people who throw themselves into work or other projects almost obsessively. This can be a way of avoiding deeper issues that are too painful to address.
• Constant worry or anxiety. Although they may not seem depressed, someone dealing with smiling depression can appear worried or anxious about other things in their lives. “What if this projects bombs?” “I think they all hate me,” “I’ll never get this done in time,” etc.
While these are not all the possible signs that someone is hiding depression, they are some of the most common. And although any one of these things could be “normal” behavior for the individual, when you begin to see several of these signs in someone you’re right to be concerned.
Why People Hide Their Depression
It’s not uncommon for people to want to keep their pain private. To say it’s difficult to discuss feelings of depression would be an understatement. But for many who feel this way it goes deeper than just being “difficult.”
Many people don’t really understand what’s going on with them. They think what their feeling is just who they are, and so they live with it. The idea that there could be help and relief from this pain seems unfathomable. So, they continue to put on a smile and move forward with no inclination to get help.
I spoke with a woman the other day who was shocked to know that there are people who don’t feel worried and upset all the time. She assumed that a constant feeling of worry and despair was normal. “Afterall, look at the world we’re in. Doesn’t everyone feel that way?” she asked after her husband insisted she talk to someone. No, not everyone feels this way.
Others may feel shame and worry about what people around them would think if they knew the way they truly feel. Still others assume that if they don’t think about it and pretend to be happy then eventually time will just make the problems go away. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? Nope.
Hiding depression isn’t the answer. In fact, it can be downright dangerous. If you recognize any of this in someone you know or yourself then it’s time for help.
Remember, just because there’s a smile on a face doesn’t mean there’s not pain in the heart. Left unchecked and untreated depression can have dire consequences. The good news is that there are resources and people available to help. It just make take a helping hand to make the first move.