Smiling Depression: What You Should Know

Updated on August 30, 2021

While smiling depression is not officially a mental health condition, it is widely used used to refer to the state of appearing to be happy while in reality experiencing symptoms of depression. People who suffer from this can appear well-adjusted, presentable, professionally successful and apparently happy. However, in truth they are not, and they need to be helped no less than those that outwardly display the classic signs of depression.[1]

smiling depression

Smiling depression isolates those that experience it, making it more difficult for them to deal with their sadness. Though they might not realize that they’re at risk of falling apart, smilers strive to conceal their misery from others and to rationalize this effort.

Why Would Anyone Smile While Depressed?

Smiling depression is a facade, a tool used by people to prevent anyone from recognizing their inner turmoil and their need to overcome it. Indeed, smiling is a mask that covers up an anxious person’s concerns and uncertainties, including a possible job loss, family problems, or any other life crisis.

Smiling depression tends to be a problem among perfectionists and people burdened with more than their fair share of responsibility.

A false front of optimism and well-being, smiling depression is a coping mechanism that backfires. Sufferers might convince themselves that they can persevere past some serious problem unassisted. They might believe that they’ll benefit somehow from hiding their fears, self-contempt or other negative mindset.

What Do Depressed Smilers Do to Cope?

In some cases, people that smile while depressed self-medicate with caffeinated beverages to energize themselves or engage in substance abuse that can kill them as it numbs their inner pain. Emotionally overwhelmed or feeling somehow inadequate, depressed smilers are determined to conceal their unhappiness for career, social and other reasons.

No matter the rationale or the amount of effort exerted to disguise depressive symptoms, those sufferers need psychological help, a reality that they struggle to deny themselves for one rationalized “reason” or another.

How to Help Others Cope With Smiling Depression

If you learn of someone’s severe hidden depression, their efforts to hide it, or their intention to harm themselves, you should begin by expressing compassion.

Skip the lectures about faith, morality and the like. Don’t demean the sufferer’s pain by denying its causes or giving them fortune cookie wisdom. Your judgmental response will alienate the person suffering behind a contrived grin, and possibly prevent them from seeking the help they need somewhere else.

Instead, express genuine concern and offer to help the person to find an insightful therapist who can help them past the agony. Honor their courage for speaking with you. Confessing to such inner pain is no simple feat.

Treatment of Smiling Depression

If you feel that you may be experiencing symptoms of depression, you should seek out a professional therapist. A therapist can help you work through your emotions and cope with your symptoms.

In addition, you can also try some simple techniques to increase your composure and sense of positivity:

  • Make positive speech a constant in your life. Speak in pleasant ways to yourself, even though it will feel contrived and artificial at first. Practice until it feels soothing and natural and understand that it will take time for you to feel “up” and not “down.”
  • Confide your feelings and concerns with a trusted friend or multiple friends. Let them soothe you, too. They just might have insights that benefit you.
  • Reduce your time on social media, where people try to impress the wider world with edited photos and tales of exciting adventures.[2] They might be false, exaggerated or otherwise inappropriate. Credibility is sorely lacking on social media, where people can portray falsehoods at will. There’s no need to expose yourself or anyone to the pretense, then wonder why your life isn’t just as wonderful.
  • Indulge in relaxing, rewarding hobbies that suit your interests, skills and needs. Nurturing yourself this way can allow your heart and mind to rest, to reach helpful insights and to reject ideas that harm you.

Above all, know that you are not alone. Many fine people suffer from smiling depression. After taking action and working with a therapist, many people can move past the anguish and experience true happiness.

In Summary

If you’ve ever remarked, “I had no idea…”, upon learning of a person’s despair-induced suicide attempt, nervous breakdown or confession of feeling worthless, you may likely have been exposed to smiling depression. It’s quite startling and confusing to most onlookers. But it is not an unknown phenomenon to mental health professionals.

None of the people deceiving themselves this way know if their situation is temporary or long-term, and they certainly don’t know how to end the problem. The deep unhappiness warrants mental health intervention to alleviate the suffering.[3] The evidence of that will show up in the smiler’s deteriorating physical health, disrupted sexual functioning, sleep problems and, eventually, their failed efforts to hide the overall problem from others.

Smiling Depression is a serious problem for anyone hiding behind laughter and a seemingly happy face, but fortunately, with professional help it can be treated.


References

  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness. (2016, September 2). What You Need to Know About “Smiling Depression.” NAMI. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/September-2016/What-You-Need-to-Know-About-Smiling-Depression%E2%80%9D
  2. Gil-Or, O., Levi-Belz, Y., & Turel, O. (2015). The “Facebook-self”: characteristics and psychological predictors of false self-presentation on FacebookFrontiers in psychology6, 99. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.00099
  3. Arora, S., & Sharma, R. (2018). Positive affect, psychotherapy, and depressionIndian journal of psychiatry60(2), 199–204. https://doi.org/10.4103/psychiatry.IndianJPsychiatry_384_17

Yocheved Golani is a popular writer whose byline has appeared worldwide in print and online. A certified Health Information Management professional, she is a member of Get Help Israel. Certified in Spiritual Chaplaincy (End of Life issues) and in counseling skills, her life coaching for ill people puts a healthy perspective into a clients’ success plan for achieving desired goals.