￼The term “smiling depression” – appearing happy to others while internally suffering significant depressive symptoms is receiving more research attention￼. While smiling depression is not a technical term that psychologists use based on ICD or DSM criteria, it is certainly possible to be depressed and manage to successfully mask the symptoms. The closest technical term for this condition is “atypical depression”. In fact, a significant proportion of people who experience a low mood and a loss of pleasure in activities manage to hide their condition in this way.
These people might be particularly vulnerable to suicide.
It can be very hard to spot people suffering from smiling depression. They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, popularity, and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives. Tony Bourdain and Robin Williams are good examples.￼
Inside, however, they feel hopeless and down, intermittently having thoughts about ending it all. The strength that they have to go on with their daily lives can make them especially vulnerable to carrying out suicide plans.
Although people with smiling depression put on a “happy face” to the outside world, they can experience a genuine lift in their mood as a result of positive occurrences in their lives. For example, getting a text message from someone they’ve been craving to hear from, volunteering or doing community service to help others, ￼or being praised at work can make them feel better for a few moments.
Other symptoms of this condition include under or overeating, substance abuse, irritability, feeling a sense of heaviness in the body, insomnia, and being easily hurt by criticism or rejection. People with smiling depression are also more likely to feel depressed in the evening, also known as sundowning, ￼and feel the need to sleep longer than usual. Smiling depression is exhausting, because a great deal of mental effort is required for them to put forth the semblance that everything is fine.￼
Recently, Women’s Health magazine captured the essence of smiling depression – the façade – when it asked women to share pictures from their social media and then to recaption them on Instagram with how they really felt in the moment they were taking the picture.
It is difficult to determine exactly what causes smiling depression, but low mood can stem from a number of things, such as work problems, financial hardship, ￼relationship breakdowns, and feeling as if life doesn’t have purpose and meaning. It is very common. About one in ten people are depressed, and between 15% and 40% of these people suffer from the atypical form that resembles smiling depression.
Such depression can often start early in life and can last a long time.If you suffer from smiling depression it is particularly important to get help. Sadly, though, people suffering from this condition usually don’t, because they might not think that they have a problem in the first place – this is particularly the case if they appear to be carrying on with their tasks and daily routines as before. In short, they get used to feeling bad. More than ever, it’s very important to check in with people who seem like they’re doing well, during difficult times.￼