This is a topic that’s close to my heart, as people are often shocked to know I’ve struggled with depression and poor mental health since primary school. That’s because I’m always making funny comments and trying to make other people happy, largely because of my messed up childhood making me desperate for acceptance and turning me into a people-pleaser. The smile I wear to hide my pain and near-daily struggles with suicidal and existential intrusive thoughts is really effective. One thing my existence has thought me is that smiling depression can hide a substantial amount of inner turmoil and pain.
What Is Smiling Depression?
Classic depression characteristics are normally sadness, lethargy, and despair, where someone might just stay in bed all day (Healthline). But smiling depression doesn’t present like that. According to Medical News Today, smiling depression is a term doctors will use to describe a patient that is able to mask their depression behind a façade of happiness while inside they’re dealing with feelings of hopelessness. This is supported by Bhattacharya, Hoedebecke, Sharma, Gokdemir, and Singh (2019) who also define smiling depression as people wearing a smile as a mask to hide their inner turmoil, calling it an atypical form of depression.
I was so good at hiding the pain that was weighing me down each day that most therapists couldn’t even detect it. I was even able to hide my psychotic episodes even as I was having one during a therapy session. Only one psychiatrist was able to detect what was going on under my hood, but then, for some reason, decided the Mental Health Trust couldn’t handle my needs and denied me treatment because I was too complex. It was a weird experience to be seen and then denied support because I was seen.
As eCounselling.com puts it, if you’ve ever uttered the words “I had no idea…” when learning of someone’s suicide attempt, mental breakdown, or confession of feeling utterly hopeless, then you’ve likely witnessed someone with smiling depression. The ultimate example of smiling depression that shocked the world was likely Robin Williams, Mr Funny Man himself.
It’s hardly a surprise we fall for smiling depression, because when someone looks happy, then we assume they are and don’t put much thought into it. This is why social media can have such an effect on our mental health as people can falsely present themselves as having the time of their lives on platforms like Instagram and we believe it without question, even though they could be depressed themselves.
According to Women’s Health, nearly 20% of women in a Women’s Health-National Alliance on Mental Illness survey shared a photo to social media with a caption that didn’t reflect their inner feelings of depression, due to the internal stigma they felt about their depression.
The problem with smiling depression is that it can require a lot more effort to hide your depression than to just be open about it, which can increase the risk of the person with smiling depression having a mental breakdown and taking life-ending action.
How Depression Symptoms Can Be Hidden
One way people with smiling depression can hide some of their symptoms of depression is to self-medicate through the use of caffeinated/energy drinks to mask their lethargy and substance abuse to numb the pain, or for energy as well, depending on what substance they abuse (eCounselling.com). Tricks like these can help people to retain the outward appearance of being a high-functioning individual whose happy with a steady job and good social life, but you don’t always need tricks like these to hide behind that smile. This is just an example of how it can escalate if action isn’t taken soon enough, as it becomes harder and harder to hide behind that smile.
Why People Mask Their Depression
Although society has come a long way in reducing the stigma of mental health, it still has a very long way to go. Thus, people will choose to “keep calm and carry on” and conceal their depression behind a smile so they can keep their job(s) because losing their source of income would be worse. Basically, too many people live paycheck to paycheck.
People might also hide their depression behind a smile because they want to avoid burdening others, to not make a fuss, because they don’t want to seem like they can’t cope (this is especially true of men, thanks to outdated notions of masculinity that still exist).
Another interesting reason why people decided to hide their depression behind a smile is that the person may be anticipating failure, struggling with feelings of embarrassment, and can be plagued by overthinking negative situations (Olivia Remes – The Conversation). This is all kinds of me.
My anxiety disorders are rooted in the fear that I’ll do something to embarrass myself that I might not even be aware of due to my reality being different to everyone else’s (this is where my psychosis can come in). As for my overthinking of negative situations, being trapped in my childhood trauma and overthinking everything I did and what I could have done differently caused me to have insomnia for years. Thus, it doesn’t surprise me that there might be reasons why people engage in smiling depression. After all, I often had to smile and play along while being the butt of the joke to my racist abusers.
Some people might also think that if they smile through their depression will help it go away, the “fake it to you make it” way of thinking Medical News Today. Of course, they’ll also be those that just don’t realise they’re depressed, and thus, aren’t smiling to hide the depression but just trying to push through what they think is just a bad few days, not knowing it’s something far more than that.
How To Tackle Smiling Depression
If you’ve read my article on asking twice, then the reason we need to ask twice is that people can and will hide their pain behind a smile. Don’t be reassured by a false smile or an “I’m fine” comment, as appearances are often deceiving, instead look for other clues if you’re concerned about someone’s mental health (Rebecca Lawrence – The Guardian).
People with smiling depression are at an increased risk of becoming suicidal because they haven’t sort the help they need and no one around them has a clue they’re struggling with depression. Therefore, if you’re someone with smiling depression, please talk to your loved ones and seek professional help. Furthermore, you might also benefit from my article on safety plans, where you can download my two free workbooks. You can read that article by clicking here.
If you think you might know someone who has smiling depression, then my article on how to support someone who might be suicidal might be of benefit to you, which you can read by clicking here.
The best way to tackle smiling depression is to reduce the stigma of having a mental health problem in the first place (Bhattacharya, Hoedebecke, Sharma, Gokdemir, and Singh, 2019). Otherwise, people will keep pretending like nothing’s wrong as their mental health further deteriorates and they risk having a breakdown rather than getting the help they needed earlier on.
As always, leave your feedback in the comments section below. Also, feel free to share your experiences with smiling depression in the comments section below as well. Don’t forget to bookmark my site and if you want to stay up-to-date with my blog, then sign up for my newsletter below. Alternatively, get push notifications for new articles by clicking the red bell icon in the bottom right corner.
Lastly, if you’d like to support my blog, then you can make a donation of any size below as well. Until next time,
Unwanted Life readers.
Bhattacharya, S., Hoedebecke, K., Sharma, N., Gokdemir, O., & Singh, A. (2019). “Smiling depression” (an emerging threat): Let’s Talk. Indian Journal of Community Health, 31, 433-436. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338987674_Smiling_depression_an_emerging_threat_Let’s_Talk and https://www.iapsmupuk.org/journal/index.php/IJCH/article/view/1255.
Global Crisis Lines And Support
64 thoughts on “What Is The Strange World Of Smiling Depression?”
I think about Robin WIlliams a lot. In terms of how funny he was and he seemed so happy. Yet we had no idea how deep his depression went. Also, sometimes we fool ourselves. We smile on the outside, and we hope that will make us feel it on the inside. It can be hard. The thing that has helped me the most has been talking about it with family. When hitting the lows, opening up, knowing that people are there for me, helps me the most. Thank you for sharing!
There’s an entire movement that tells us that fake smiling can give us the same benefits of having a real smile, which doesn’t help. Don’t fake it to you make it. You’re doing the right thing by talking to your family instead
This is such an interesting post, it always reminds me of these smiling photographs of all the celebrities who died because of depression. You never know what goes behind a person’s smile. Thanks for sharing!
Olivia | http://www.oliviaandbeauty.com
Indeed you don’t
Thanks for sharing your struggles with depression and other mental health issues. So many people are a walking around with the mask of a smiling depression.
It’s far too common, unfortunately
This is so true. I struggle a lot with people pleasing and hiding my mental health. A lot of people are not aware of my issues and I don’t talk about them with many people only people who are close with me. I remember when I was depressed in high school and no one knew. It’s such a sad truth. Thank you for being awareness to this.
It’s do easily done, but we all need to learn that it’s not health to do it
This was interesting. Thank you for sharing this information and the resources about smiling depression. Excellent blog post.
This was a very interesting post and so close to home! I had something similar when I wasn’t in a good place years ago and still find myself falling for a fake smile in order not to burden others or hope it can just go away. It took long to learn that it was not the case, but sometimes a fake smile helps me not to speak about it with people I don’t want to share it, even if it’s not the best way. Thanks for sharing x
I know what you mean, I should know better, but I still do it myself
Thank you for this important post and for your openess.
You have a wonderful way of writing to break things down.
This was an interesting read. Fashion world was shaken when fashion designers Kate Spade, Alexander McQueen and L’Wren Scott took their own lives. Their deaths highlighted the fact that very successful people with glamorous lives can feel just as empty inside as anyone else. It’s good to talk about mental health so people have the courage to come forward. I also notice saying I’m fine when I’m not because I don’t want to make a hassle.
I actually wrote an article about why I say “I’m fine” when actually I’m not. It’s not too dissimilar to hiding behind a smile
As always, I learned something new here.
I often have the opposite problem. People ask me what is wrong because I’m not smiling although my interior self is perfectly content.
My neutral face often gets confused with being upset or angry, even though I’m just emotionally empty inside
Very interesting article. I think this is an issue that more people need to read about and aware of. Thank you for sharing such important information.
As someone with depression who is very good at hiding it, I had no idea there was even a term for masking it. This has been an extremely interesting read for sure. Thank you for brining awareness to a topic that I really think needs to be talked about more.
Thank you for sharing
Great post, and a very interesting read. I agree that it is dangerous when someone can hide what they are going through, and I think we all need to get a bit better at helping those who don’t reach out x
Indeed we do, but first we need to be better at recognising the signs when people aren’t reaching out when they need to
Great post! This is really interesting and informative – thanks for providing some great information and resources! I know I’m guilty of pretending everything’s ok when it’s really not, and hiding behind a smile – sometimes it can be really difficult to ask for help. Thanks for sharing!
It can be difficult to ask for help, mainly because we make it difficult for ourselves to ask for it
Thanks for shining a light on this topic. It resonates a lot with me. So important to share. Helen 🙂
Thanks for reading
This is so very true. Not everyone suffering from depression looks sad. Thank you for bringing awareness to this.
Thank you for commenting
Thank you for sharing this. You have a knack for sharing interesting topics easy to digest. Smiling depression is real and isn’t talked about often. Still feel sad about Robin Williams, you really can’t tell what’s inside a person’s heart and mind… I hope people with suicidal thoughts never get to think they’re a burden… this is so sad crazy the world we live in.
The world needs to change from a consumer based and driven society to a wellbeing model so we can all live a happier and healthier life. Because we hide behind a smile because we feel we have no other choice in order to work and consume
Thank you for shedding light in this. People can be so good at hiding these type of things and I’ve experienced this one time before with a friend who hid it so well. God bless you and him for being strong.
Thanks for reading
Thank you so much for sharing this important information. Too many are faking “it.” It’s this falsehood that’s literally destroying people from the inside out. Being genuine about how you are really doing is vital and necessary. If more would become aware of how the people around them are (really) doing … more would become comfortable sharing. It’s this acceptance about someone’s pain and ability to be heard that are essential for healing. Being sincerely kind can bring a genuine smile. I really appreciated this post.
Indeed. Suffering behind a smile is the reason so many people are living unhappy lives, but change won’t happen until we’re able to be honest about how we’re coping and having these much needed conversations
I had never heard of Smiling Depression until now. Brilliant post, thank you for sharing and bringing awareness.
This is such an important article and I am so grateful to you for writing it. Smiling depression is real, and in a way created by the world we live in. That is why I make it my mission to share my feelings honestly when online. I have depression, and smiled and have pretended to be fine for the benefit of others for years; however, that made me worse and close to suicide. I applaud you for sharing this piece, and urge you to keep going with your posts and help us all create a space where we can speak without being judged, or feeling that guilt.
I am lucky in that I have a partner who can see when I am pretending and this enables me to deal with my depression head on. Others are still pretending, and smiling through. Just acknowledging your emotions and your behaviour towards it is a start. Depression does not go away, but we can find a way to live with it.
Thank for for this really brave post and be sure that there is a place here, or on my site, where feelings can be shared freely.
Indeed, smile depression does appear to be created as a result of the society we live in. Changing that society to a more wellbeing focused one will hopefully lead to less people feeling like they need to hide their pain behind a smile
i guess it’s like the concept of “fake it til you make it”. smiling helps us increase our seretonin levels so i can see why people use it as a coping mechanism of sorts. i see so many celebrities like robin williams for example who smiled through the pain essentially. and even in my own life i choose to use humor and smiling to combat rough & sad times. this was a very interesting topic to read about.
The problem is, faking it until you make it doesn’t seem to work
Excellent post. I often prefer to pretend everything is fine rather than open up to most people and be honest about what I’m feeling. This usually stems from opening up to people in the past who undermine feelings or steer conversations to things I should be doing instead of being supportive. I think it’s something a lot of people experience and should be normalized.
People often don’t know how to handle such conversations and that should be something we teach people to do as we teach the young life skills, so the next generation doesn’t have the problems we have
Way too many people have been lost to depression. I used to work in a mental health hospital and it always worried me when people with depression used to smile and say, “I’m fine!” when asked how they were.
Your article reinforces the fact that the majority of us wear masks and we should always be kind because we’ve no idea what is going on with people. A careless comment could trigger something tragic.
Indeed, being kind can also be infectious
Great article. I’ve never heard the term ‘smiling depression’ before. I think this is something I’ve done in the past as I’ve suffered from depression. It takes a lot of work to be able to get up every day and manage it. I’m very very lucky as I have a great support network and a loving partner, but I feel for people who have nobody to turn to. Who would they have ask for help? I guess being kind to others is a start. Thanks for sharing 🙂
Being kind certainly is a good start, but educating people on how open up and how to have these kinds of conversations is also important
Absolutely spot on ?
I feel like smiling depression is more common than most people realize. It reminds me of masking, which can be common in people with ADHD. I agree that the best cure for this is destigmatizing mental health issues, so more people feel comfortable coming forward and getting help when they’re feeling depressed, instead of covering it up and struggling alone until they become overwhelmed.
It’s definitely a lot more common than people think it is
I guess this proves the words ‘fake it, till you make it’. Sometimes getting through a day is hard especially in todays world.This blog was very Informative and motivational./ Thanks!
The problem is, “fake it, till you make it”, stops you from getting the support that would actually help you make it
I have never heard of or thought of smiling depression. But once you laid it out, it is so real and many people could be hiding it this way in nowadays high stress society. Hope that there will be more help available for those who suffer. Thanks
Support and investment in mental health can never be too much
I love this post so much. I wrote a similar post few months ago. I am more guilty of this than I can admit. I could be a total wreck and still smile. I’m always smiling and I smile a lot to cover my pain, hurt. I’m so good at masking my emotions, you would think I don’t have problems lol. But I am learning to not deprive myself of feeling my feelings and to show how I feel. I don’t need to have a smile on at all times. It’s okay to have bad days and be sad. On days where I am not my best, I’ll let it all out. I won’t pretend to be happy.
Thank you for sharing your experience
Very interesting and informative. Sometimes I do the smiling depression but recently, I can’t hold it. i became more emotional and since then, I don’t like to hide it. Great article!
Thanks for sharing your experience
Wow this was an eye-opener, I never knew smiling depression was a thing, although i’m more familiar with fake it until you make it. It was interesting to learn how energy drinks can be used as a cover up, so to speak. Thank you for raising awareness about this, it will help me spot any clues in the future.
There’s a surprising amount of tricks to use to fake being ok
Which is very alarming
indeed great info