The Dangers of Hidden Depression

In some people, symptoms of depression are very noticeable, but in others, there are no obvious symptoms on the outside. If you're struggling with hidden depression, you may be experiencing a lot of inner sadness, fatigue or lethargy while trying to appear in control of your life and emotions. You may even be attempting to hide symptoms of depression from yourself.

Depression is a mood disorder that is typically associated with extreme sadness and a despair that is so all-consuming that you can’t get out of bed or function in your day-to-day life. Symptoms of depression can vary quite a bit from one person to another. While some people are noticeably full of sadness and despair, in others symptoms may not be as obvious.

Some people live with depression on the inside, even though they appear cheerful and content on the outside. This is known as smiling depression or hidden depression. It’s also sometimes called walking depression, because those that have it can keep on walking, talking, and smiling in spite of their depression. If you have hidden depression, there’s a good chance that other people have no idea you are struggling with depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of Hidden Depression

If you have hidden depression, you make an effort to project an image of happiness even though inside you are experiencing a lot of sadness. You may attempt to brush aside your own feelings, or you may feel impatient with yourself for feeling them.

Symptoms of smiling depression include the most recognizable symptoms of depression such as:

  • fatigue
  • lethargy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Loss of interest in activities that once brought pleasure

What makes this form of depression distinctive is the fact that, in spite of experiencing these symptoms, you appear to be leading a very functional life. On the exterior you may be holding down a steady job, have a good family life, and seem to be cheerful and optimistic. There may not be anyone who knows you are depressed, except you.

Inner Struggles of Hidden Depression

When you have hidden depression, even though you seem to be functioning and coping, you are experiencing a lot of inner struggles. You may have thoughts similar to these:

  • It’s not acceptable to show signs of depression to others, because that would reveal character weakness.
  • You don’t want to bring down the people around you by telling them your true feelings and inner struggles.
  • There’s nothing seriously wrong in your life, so you shouldn’t be complaining.
  • Everyone around you would probably be better off without you.

Why Smiling Depression is Dangerous

The fact that you are able to lead a seemingly normal life may seem to be an advantage over a person who has clinical depression and is completely unable to function, but having high functioning depression can actually be dangerous. You may be denying your symptoms even to yourself, which means there’s a good chance you are not reaching out to your doctor or to loved ones for help.

Trying to ignore symptoms of smiling depression can lead to other problems. Some problems you may experience if you try to pretend nothing is wrong include:

  • Weight loss or gain from losing your appetite or turning to food for comfort
  • Misuse of alcohol or other substances
  • Physical pain or illness
  • Social isolation
  • Conflict in relationships
  • Self-destructive behavior such as cutting

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The Risk of Suicide

An even more serious problem is that hidden depression can lead to inner hopelessness and despair that can’t be communicated to anyone else. As your feelings of sadness and despair intensify, you may consider suicide.

The risk of suicide may be higher in hidden depression than it is in major depression. With major depression, you might feel suicidal but would probably not have the energy to act on these thoughts. With smiling depression, acting on suicidal urges is a real possibility.

Getting Help for Walking Depression

Opening up to the people around you is an important step toward overcoming hidden depression. Instead of trying to hide your uncomfortable feelings, reach out to a trusted family member or friend and begin to get in the habit of discussing your feelings. Those who love you are likely to want to be supportive, and sharing your feelings is an important part of coping with depressive thoughts and emotions.

Just because depressive symptoms are not completely incapacitating doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get help. Working with a therapist can help you to identify the thought patterns and belief systems that are contributing to depressive feelings, as well as helping you to learn what tools you can use to improve your mood. These tools include meditation, physical exercise and learning mindfulness skills.

Another option is to go to a residential treatment center, where you can completely focus on getting help for hidden depression for a period of time. This allows you to participate in support groups and work with a therapist without the distractions and stresses of your day-to-day life. It’s a great way to get in touch with deep-rooted feelings in a safe environment.

Symptoms of hidden depression shouldn’t be ignored in the hopes they will go away. Depression, including high functioning depression, is a very treatable condition. With help, you can learn new skills for coping with your depression, and you will be able to smile on the outside as well as the inside.