What exactly is smiling depression? For some people hiding their emotions for fear of being reprimanded developed during their formative years, for others, it is a cultural thing [like for men having to put up a brave front for example] or even not wanting others to know what’s going on in their personal lives for many people.

However, this may not always be just a passing phase. There are people who have gone through repeated traumatic events and keep having to smile and go on with their everyday lives in order to work and survive. This situation is known as smiling depression. And no “faking it till you make it” doesn’t always work though at times being forcibly upbeat can give you a small lift momentarily.

“If you are someone who tends to mask your emotions with smiles and jokes it could mean you have a major depressive disorder (MDD) with atypical features,” says Sam Nabil who is a licensed professional counsellor and CEO and Lead Therapist of Naya Clinics.

This diagnosis means your mood can temporarily improve when good things happen and you may not seem sad or down to other people which makes it difficult to diagnose.

The signs could be as follows:

  1. Changes in sleep, weight or appetite
  2. Reduced interest in sex or intimacy
  3. Difficulty concentrating
  4. Lethargy or fatigue
  5. Feeling hopeless
  6. Loss of interest in activities that you used to like before

It is very common for this category of people to appear to be cheerful and optimistic not only to outsiders but also to close friends and family. It is however merely a façade and it is very exhausting to have to constantly portray this. They are also less likely to get support which is much needed.

It does involve a risk of suicide and sometimes it is higher than normal. One psychiatrist Dr Edward Ratush says that this is because those with this problem often have enough energy to carry out a suicide plan.

Very often people with this condition were taught by early caregivers/parents that emotions should be kept in check or were punished for crying even in justified situations.

Fake Happiness

Triggers range from death of a love one, divorce or a break-up, losing your job, interpersonal relationship challenges at home, social media influence and low self-esteem [feeling that you haven’t achieved enough even when you have]

Nabil says this is because high expectations from yourself can result in ‘perceived’ failures that lead to crushing shame, self-doubt or insecurity. And this fuels depression that you’re somehow not enough.

Another reason for smiling depression is to avoid the cultural stigma of admitting to depression and just pretending it is not there.

“People with smiling depression think, ‘I have too many responsibilities right now to be depressed,’ or ‘I can’t acknowledge these feelings when others have it worse,” said Dr Ratush.

Chronic pain or illness, psychological, emotional and physical abuse and a lack of social support also often leads to this condition or worsens smiling depression.

If you are suffering from smiling depression, try not to isolate yourself, seek help, speak to someone you trust such as a therapist to whom you can reveal your true feelings, as this will help you come out of the duality that you are currently having to live in.

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