One of my powerful questions a person can ask is “How are you? Really?” So often people mask their depression out of a need to please or avoid concerning others. Smiling Depression is a term that encompasses putting on a façade of happiness even in the most painful moments. It is a major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms, so much so that many sufferers don’t even realize anything is profoundly wrong and receive the help they need.
In public these people are well-put together with a long-term career and typically involved in committed relations. On the surface they look like they have it all. Yet, behind this jovial mask, they are haunted by gremlins of self-doubt, inadequacy and angst. They may have a history of mental struggles and perhaps have been on medication in the past. However, now they feel they have conquered this daemon and don’t even share their fears or concerns with their loved ones.
The severity of not receiving treatment
According to researchers, there is a high correlation between smiling depression and suicide. With more tradition forms of depression people can struggle to get out of bed or leave the home. In this form, people can receive sudden burst of negative energy that compels them to hurt themselves. In particular, self-harm is prompted following traumatic events like sudden job loss, end of a long-term relationship or financial hardships. This is especially true for men. People around them have little to no clue of their suffering and after the suicide people will remark they “were the last person I thought would have done this.”
Ways to help
- Advocate for mental health care and reform: Many people with smiling depression are perfectionists who yearn to always be polished and in control. When we highlight people we admire that have struggled with depression, we destigmatize the disease. We can work to promote a mix of therapy, exercise, medication, sleep, diet, and gratitude to lessen the effects of our inner gremlins.
- Notice the warning signs in people around you: It matters when your typically bubbly friend habitually cancels plans last minute and begins to dodge phone calls and texts. Work to reach them to ask what is really going on in their life and psyche. Show them in various ways that you care. Sometimes people won’t be quick to talk, but will respond to a hand hold or an invitation to go on a walk. It is especially important to notice when people begin to suddenly give away precious items (a sign they may be planning suicide). Reach out to people you know typically feel overwhelmed and alone.
- Be honest with yourself: Perhaps the person in your life that is struggling is you. Work to remind yourself that you are enough, worthy, and deeply loved. Focus on activities and hobbies that bring purpose and joy into your life. Sometimes a pleasant distraction can fill a void. If you feel you lack purpose call someone or doing a loving act for a person in your life. When you feel needed and helpful it can shift perspective and give you a positive boost in your life. Finally, reach out for help. Therapists are trained to help people navigate the quagmire that is smiling depression. They can teach you vital self-care and coping skills to provide you to the rope to get yourself out of this deep dark hole. Above all, never give up hope. Remember you are not alone and you are loved.