As we dive deeper into Mental Health Awareness Month, it is nearly impossible to open the Internet without coming across a social media post, a personal story, or a news article about depression. Depression affects 17 million adults (approximately 7 percent) in the United States each year. Depression affects how you feel about yourself, and it also commonly co-occurs with other illnesses and medical conditions. For example, depression often goes hand in hand with substance use disorder, eating disorders, cancer, heart disease, dementia, diabetes, and HIV. Although depression is characterized by sadness, lack of motivation, changes in sleep and eating patterns, feelings of guilt, and loss of interest, depression can be tricky to diagnose because many individuals with depression hide their feelings and “seem to get around just fine.” Joy and despair can be significant players in individuals who are struggling with depression. It is possible to battle depression while simultaneously experiencing fleeting moments of happiness and joy, hence the term “smiling depression.”
“Smiling depression” is an individual living with depression daily and suffering on the inside but appears perfectly happy or content on the outside. Their public life seems to be “put together,” and an average bystander, acquaintance, or even a close friend may believe that this person is living everyday life. Unfortunately, there is still a lot of shame and stigma associated with mental health disorders and depression. As a result, many individuals are scared to recognize and talk about their feelings. They are scared to get help. As a result, “smiling on the outside” is a massive Band-Aid that can temporarily hide underlying feelings of despair associated with depression.
Happiness is a fleeting emotion
Depression is a mental health disorder that is recognized in the mental health and medical community. It encompasses a collection of negative emotions that affect an individual’s daily functioning for a minimum of two weeks. It is much different than sadness or having the blues, as these are negative emotions that can be fleeting. Just like temporary sadness, happiness is both an emotion and a subjective judgment about life. An individual with depression can have transient moments of true happiness or may learn to display signs of happiness to hide their depression.
Signs and symptoms of depression
Depression varies among individuals and encompasses a variety of signs and symptoms. The most distinguishing symptom is profound, prolonged sadness. Other symptoms include:
- Changes in appetite, weight, and sleeping
- Lethargy or lack of energy
- Feelings of hopelessness, lack of self-esteem, and low self-worth
- Loss of interest or pleasure in doing things that were once enjoyed
Signs and symptoms of smiling depression
An individual with smiling depression may experience some or all of the symptoms associated with depression. Still, when in public, these symptoms will be mostly masked by symptoms related to “smiling depression.” To someone looking in from the outside, a person with smiling depression may exhibit the following:
- An active, high-functioning individual
- An individual who can hold down a steady job with a healthy family and social life
- An individual who appears to be cheerful, optimistic, and generally happy
If you’re experiencing depression yet continue to smile to cover up your inner pain, you may feel:
- Showing signs of depression would be a sign of weakness
- You would burden anyone by expressing your true feeling
- That you don’t have depression at all because you’re “fine.”
- That others have it worse, so what do you have to complain about?
- That the world would be better off without you
Why do people hide their depression?
Depression is tricky because some days can be terrible, whereas you may feel good on other days. You may be productive, laugh with friends, and feel good about yourself, and within 24 hours, you may not be able to rise out of bed, but you will try to walk around with a smile on your face. The saying goes, “fake it until you make it,” however hiding your depression behind a smile can be detrimental to yourself, more than you realize. By smiling through your depression, you rob yourself of acknowledging your true inner feelings and seeking help for your depression. You may feel you want to hide behind your depression for the following reasons:
- Shame and guilt
- Fear of burdening others
- Fear of appearing weak
Individuals with smiling depression will hide their deep sadness with a smile and an external facade designed to hide their inner turmoil and suffering. If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms of depression but is hiding it from everyone else, you need to know that there is hope, and you can receive help for your depression. Be proactive and honest with yourself by taking the first step and reaching out for help. With the proper treatment and support, the smile you have on the outside will soon match how you feel on the inside.