When you think of depression, you may be inclined to picture someone who struggles to get out of bed every morning and is barely able to function. But unlike many medical conditions, depression is one that often goes unseen and undiagnosed. That's because many sufferers actually experience concealed or smiling depression, in which they put on a happy front while hiding the fact that they may be fighting inner demons and feelings of sadness. By better understanding this condition and the signs that accompany it, you can take steps to help yourself or a loved one who may be struggling with this very common mental condition.
What is concealed depression?
Someone who suffers from concealed depression specifically is programmed to deal with their symptoms in a way that makes them easy to miss by outsiders. These people often bottle up their thoughts and emotions, putting up a happy front for everyone else when in reality, they struggle with sadness or finding a purpose in life, in extreme cases even having suicidal thoughts.
"Concealed depression is sometimes called 'smiling depression' because the sufferer seems fine," said Sally Winston, PsyD, a member of the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. "They go about their lives fulfilling their responsibilities, interacting apparently normally, and do not complain or share with others how they are feeling. They may be so used to being silently depressed that it is just experienced as 'this is just the way I am; I am just a loser' or 'this is the way life is' rather than 'I am depressed.'"
What are the signs of concealed depression?
If you find yourself often feeling low but going to great lengths to make others believe you're perfectly fine and happy, you may be suffering from concealed depression. Other signs to watch for are changes in your sleep and eating habits, feelings of fear and anxiety, using lifestyle hobbies like music and exercise to ward off feelings of sadness, and constantly making excuses to not spend time with friends and family members. "Vegetative signs like poor sleep or no appetite or pleasure do occur, but the sufferer feels there is no reason to seek help as it is hopeless to expect change," Winston added.
What should you do if you have it?
If you know you have concealed depression, hopefully that means you've been diagnosed by a mental health professional. The best thing you can do for yourself is to continue seeing a therapist regularly to work through your feelings. If you simply suspect that you have it because you are often sad, panicked, and sleepless, yet forcing yourself to appear happy, consider seeking counseling. Oftentimes the best place to start is through a referral from your physician.
What should you do if a loved one has concealed depression?
One of the biggest things sufferers of concealed depression experience is a fear of abandonment, which makes them hesitant to share their true feelings with those close to them. If you think a loved one is going to great lengths to hide feelings of depression, reach out to them and ask if they want to talk. If they confide in you, be there for them. They want to be loved, accepted, and understood. So hear them out, encourage them to seek help, and make sure they know you're there when they need a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on. By being outwardly accepting, you can help your loved ones to see that mental illness isn't something to be ashamed of.
"If you suspect that someone you know has concealed depression, simply let them know your concerns and that this kind of depression is just as biologically based as more obvious kinds of depression," Winston said. "Some people who are clinically depressed wrongly blame themselves for how they feel or are ashamed of their thoughts and feelings unnecessarily. Seeking treatment either by medication or therapy can make a huge difference in their quality of life."