What on earth is smiling depression?

I’ve heard it called many things, but “Smiling Depression”? Come on, it can’t be real. Or can it?

Have you ever heard of smiling depression?

Coloured female with psychotic depression smiling at the psychiatrist
Is this smiling depression? Image by Unsplash.com

No, me neither. I came across it while researching for a completely unrelated post. I was actually trying to find the words to describe a mental health professional’s fake smile. However, the more I read about smiling depression, the more it resonated with me, and I thought it might interest you.

What about the lady in the picture (right)? Is this a real smile or is it covering something else? Would you be able to tell the difference?

I remember several occasions, being depressed and so angry with my now ex, and having to put a bright face on for my sons’ birthday parties. Once the soggy streamers were binned, the guests had gone on their merry way and the boys were comatose, my mood immediately plummeted down to my little size three’s. I bet most of you have had something like this occur?

Depressive Disorders

The most common and typical form of depression is the depressive episode, but there are other subtypes of major depressive disorder. When the depressive episode recurs we speak of recurrent depressive disorder. Then there is Dysthymia which is characterized by milder severity of depressive symptomatology compared to depressive episodes or recurrent depressive disorder. We have manic depressive disorder, atypical depression and psychotic depression, and last but not least seasonal affective disorder. And then, of course, there is smiling depression.

Think about someone with depression for a few moments

Typical example of seasonal depression. Crying and blowing nose.
Sad and crying —Image by dlpng.com

Did you imagine someone who always looks miserable, down or sad? Someone who’s sat in their pj’s, wrapped in a duvet, crying on the sofa all day? Someone who can’t be bothered to attend to their hygiene needs or their scraggy bed hair? You might have thought any of that.

However, and unfortunately, some people with what’s known as smiling depression don’t have those obvious symptoms of depression. They often come across as happy, upbeat, and look cheerful or even on top of the world, on the outside. Yet, they might feel dreadful, like they’re just treading water, sad, hopeless or worthless on the inside.

So, what is smiling depression?

Severely depressed subject hides face behind cardboard while struggling with feelings of sadness.
Struggling with sadness Image by Pixabay.com

According to Medical News Today, smiling depression is a term doctors use to describe when a person masks their depression behind a smile.

While smiling depression isn’t a technical term that psychologists use, it’s definitely possible to be depressed and to successfully mask your symptoms. Also, though it’s not a clinical diagnosis, trust me, smiling depression is real. Surprisingly, it affects more people than you might think.

Likewise, people living with smiling depression are in all probability, perfectionists, high achievers and very successful. Their mood is likely to worsen considerably if they don’t meet their own impossibly high standards.

What are the risks of having smiling depression?

.Despite the worldwide prevalence of mental ill health, it’s still really difficult for some people to open up and ask for help. Furthermore, current research shows that harmful stereotypes about mental illness often prevent people from seeking treatment or speaking out at all (Olivia Singh, Insider, 2020).

Sadly, these people who can’t or don’t talk about their feelings might be more vulnerable to suicidal ideation. And because spotting the signs of smiling depression isn’t easy, it can be missed.

People with a major depression sometimes feel suicidal but many don’t have the energy to act on these thoughts. But someone with smiling depression might have the energy and motivation to follow through (T.J. Legg, Insider, 2018)

Who might have smiling depression?

Quote saying Sometimes the prettiest smiles hide the deepest secrets
Quote of the day

Absolutely anyone! It could be someone you know who, when you greet them, they smile brightly and engage in conversation.

It might be a family member who when you call, they sound chipper and tell you everything’s going well. How about that annoying colleague who’s always, always cheerful, who brings in homemade goodies for everyone and tells you how wonderful life is?

Despite how they appear or sound, you might want to watch and listen just that little bit closer. You could notice that the lips smile but there are no creases around the eyes, or that their smile fades too quickly. Maybe their body is tense or their shoulders are up round their ears. And you could get the “Oh, yes, I’m fine.” with a great big hearty grin but would you be smiling if you just felt fine?

Someone with smiling depression might sound ecstatic but does it sound over the top, cos we quite often overcompensate for feeling down by trying too hard? Listen for the heavy huff or puff at the end of their sentences which may be incongruent with their cheerful quips. Pay attention if they’re less interested in spending time together or they don’t communicate as much as they used to, despite what they tell you.

Do I have smiling depression?

Alcoholism is a common mental illness among subjects with chronic depression
Image by mgg-vitchakorn at Unsplash.com

It’s possible? Only yesterday we were visiting friends for a bbq and all morning I felt absolutely awful, almost to the point of cancelling. Even throughout the drive there I was having suicidal ideation.

Yet as soon as I walked in the door and saw my friends I was all smiles and hugs (okay, I get the social distancing thing). The afternoon was terrific, with scintillating conversation, food that was amazingly different and cold sparkling wine to wash it all down with.

Then crash, and without warning, my mood nosedived. I felt it immediately I put my first foot out the door, amidst the goodbyes and more hugs. Then I cried silent tear all the way home and I remain low, tearful and hopeless today as I type. I know this particular bout of my persistent depressive disorder is situational and reactive so hopefully it will pass, soon.

Final thoughts

I know that we can’t all be happy every minute of every day, it’s almost impossible, but it’s certainly not normal to feel blue or sad all the time either. It feels excruciatingly exhausting and it’s where I am right now. It’s taken around seven hours to write this post, reread and edit lol.

Over to you

Large red question mark with white character of a man leaning against it
Clipart.com

What do you think about the term smiling depression. Is it just another elaborate term dreamt up by our silver-spooned or pretentious psychologists? Do you think maybe you or someone you know is experiencing smiling depression? I look forward to reading your comments and will answer any questions.

You might want to read about depression, 10 thinking errors of depression here. Or a guest post about a fellow blogger’s depression and anxiety here.

Related: Data-driven subtypes of major depressive disorder (1). The dangers of smiling depression (2). Let’s talk depression (3).