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Smiling depression: A hidden mental health problem that’s dangerous

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Remember the iconic Hindi song, “Tum itna jo muskura rahe ho… kya gham hai jisko chhupa rahe ho?” When you think of a depressed person, you don’t see them smiling or being happy. Turns out, not everybody experience depression in the same manner. In fact, some might not even know that they are depressed. This holds true for those people who can manage their day-to-day life without any difficulty. It’s hard to believe that a person who is smiling and functioning well is suffering from depression. But it is possible, as smiling depression is a thing! It isn’t a clinical diagnosis, but it is high-functioning depression or what mental health experts call “persistent depressive disorder”. Read on to find out why smiling depression can be dangerous.

HealthShots reached out to Gurugram-based clinical psychologist Aishwarya Raj to find out what smiling depression is all about.

smiling depression
Smiling depression can be dangerous for you. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

Can you smile when you are depressed?

If we talk on broad terms, depression refers to sadness, lethargy and despair. In fact, a depressed person is frequently pictured by people as someone who looks exhausted or simply uninterested in life. Smiling depression, on the other hand, is a type of depression in which a person looks happy on the outside, but is actually experiencing pain within. Raj says that when someone hides their depression behind a grin, it is called smiling depression. It is not a widely recognised medical condition, which is why there is a need to pay attention to it.

Is smiling depression dangerous?

According to the expert, smiling depression may be dangerous as it often gets unnoticed. It adversely affects the mental health of a person. People with smiling depression may be even at higher risk of suicide because they are used to powering through the pain (signs for suicide prevention). They may have more energy and focus to come up with a suicide plan and follow through with it.

Signs of smiling depression

It might be difficult for your family members to spot the signs of smiling depression. But you should know that prolonged sadness is the most dominating symptom of depression (how to ask for help when dealing with depression). Everyone experiences depression differently, and there are varied symptoms such as:

• Lethargy or fatigue
• Sleeplessness
• Change in weight and appetite
• Helplessness
• Lack of interest
• Low self-esteem

While some or all these symptoms might be present in a person with smiling depression, they would be primarily, if not entirely, absent in public, says Raj. So, an active, high-functioning or cheerful person may also be affected by smiling depression.

smiling depression
People with big life changes are at high risk for smiling depression. Image courtesy: Shutterstock

People at risk for smiling depression

You never know when depression can hit you, but those at high risk are people with big life changes such as:

• A failing relationship or marriage
• Loss of job
• Financial crisis

These days, smiling depression may affect people addicted to social media. Higher expectations can also trigger it. Unrealistic expectations may come from colleagues, parents, siblings, children or friends. Perfectionists may be even more vulnerable because of the impossible standards they set for themselves.

Treatment for smiling depression

Medication and dietary changes (foods to fight depression) will help to manage this type of depression. Taking psychotherapeutic help from a professional can also be helpful for depression symptoms. A professional can help people suffering from smiling depression in coming up with personalised strategies for coping. They also need to adequate support at home to open up to someone around them.

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