Smiling Depression

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Why People Hide Their Depression 

It’s not uncommon for people to keep their depression private. From wanting to protect their privacy to fearing judgment by others, there are many personal and professional reasons why people hide their symptoms of depression. Here’s a closer look at why people keep depression a secret.

Fear of Burdening Others 

Depression and guilt tend to go hand-in-hand.3 Consequently, many individuals don’t want to burden anyone else with their struggles. This fact may be especially true for people who are used to taking care of others rather than having others take care of them. They simply do not know how to ask for help, so they keep their struggles to themselves.


Some people believe depression is a character flaw or a sign of weakness. They may even believe the lie that they should be able to “snap out of it.” When they cannot, they think there’s something wrong with them. Consequently, they may feel embarrassed about having depression because they think they should be able to handle it themselves.3


Smiling depression may stem from a person’s denial that they feel depressed. They may think that as long as they’re smiling, they must not have depression. Many people cannot admit that there might be something wrong with them. It’s easier for them to pretend like they’re fine than it is to open up about how they truly feel.

Fear of Backlash 

Sometimes people worry about the personal and professional ramifications of having depression.4 For example, a comedian or lawyer may be concerned that their employer will doubt their ability to do their job. Or, someone may worry that a partner will leave them if they reveal that they have depression. So, rather than risk being judged or punished for being depressed, they hide behind a smile.

Concern About Appearing Weak 

People with smiling depression often fear that others will take advantage of them if they reveal they have depression. Not only do they worry that others will see them as weak and vulnerable, but they are concerned that others will use their depression as leverage against them. They would rather put on a tough exterior than admit that they need help.


Because guilt tends to accompany depression, sometimes people don’t feel as though they should be depressed. They might think they have a good life and shouldn’t feel bad.

They also feel like they must be doing something wrong or that they’re somehow to blame for being depressed. Consequently, they feel guilty and sometimes even ashamed of their depression. So they keep it hidden behind a smile.

Unrealistic Views of Happiness 

Social media portrays happiness in an unrealistic way. Many people scroll through social media and see pictures of happy people. Consequently, they grow to believe that they’re the only ones struggling with mental health issues.5They may feel more isolated than ever and it could cause them to hide their struggles.


Perfectionists have often mastered the art of looking perfect. And, for many, that means disguising any pain or problems they are experiencing. As a result, admitting to depression would mean that their lives are less than perfect and they just cannot bring themselves to do that.

Risk of Suicide 

Depression often causes thoughts of death and suicide. But sometimes, people with clinical depression lack the energy to create a plan and follow through on completing suicide. While anyone with depression is at risk of suicide, individuals with smiling depression may be at especially high risk because they are high-functioning.2

Individuals with smiling depression often have enough energy to follow through on their suicidal thoughts. What’s more, individuals with smiling depression often go untreated as well. And untreated depression may get worse over time and increase the likelihood of suicide.

Treatment for Smiling Depression 

Someone with smiling depression might officially be diagnosed with depression with atypical features. For instance, looking happy isn’t typical of someone who feels depressed.

But just like other types of depression, smiling depression is treatable. Treatment may include medication, talk therapy, and lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

If you think you may be depressed, talk to your doctor.6 Explain that you haven’t been feeling yourself lately and describe some of the symptoms that you’re experiencing.

Your physician can rule out physical health issues that may be contributing to your symptoms and can assist with referrals to other treatment providers, such as a psychotherapist or psychiatrist.

How to Help Someone Else 

If you think someone you know has smiling depression, share your concerns. Normalize mental health issues and talk to them about how they can get help. Offer emotional support as well as practical support.

For example, you might offer a ride to a medical appointment, or depending on the nature of your relationship, you might even offer to attend an appointment with them. Direct them to community resources as well. Tell them about mental health services that may be available to them.

If a loved one refuses to get help, you might consider talking to a therapist yourself. Talking to someone can help you manage your own stress while also reinforcing strategies you can use to help someone you care about.

If you or a loved one are struggling with depression, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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