The National Institute for Mental Health (NAMH) estimates that over 10% of the US population suffers from depression – in fact, almost 15 million people report symptoms. That’s ten times more than the number of those suffering from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. In a joint survey conducted by Women’s Health Magazine and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 89% of 2000 women surveyed admitted to feeling symptoms of depression and/or anxiety.
Of that same pool of women, 20% admitted that they felt pressure to share photos on social media with happy captions that did not accurately reflect the way they actually felt in that moment. Why? Where is this pressure coming from? Possible answers might include society, friends, family, stigmas, etc. One common factor to those suffering specifically from “smiling depression” is internal pressure.
What is smiling depression?
Although it is not yet listed as an official diagnosis in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), “Smiling depression” is understood to be a form of depression in which the person suffering appears to be completely healthy and often high-functioning. Everyone around them is generally clueless to their inner turmoil, and that is by design. The overwhelming majority of people who suffer from “smiling depression” are perfectionists who work hard to prevent chips and cracks in their perfect facade.
This is part of what makes “smiling depression” dangerous: sufferers often battle overwhelming emotions and even suicidal ideations while hiding it completely from everyone around them.
The best way to explain smiling depression is to think of a theater where the actors are all wearing masks. Those masks hide any problems from the outside world, but the reality behind the mask might be very different. Smiling depression sufferers could have a family, hold a full-time job, and even have an active social life. Behind the mask, they may be suffering from sadness, panic attacks, and even suicidal thoughts. (click here for source)
Why is the facade so important?
Because behind each perfectionist’s mask lies a soul who has low or no self-esteem, poor body image, a belief that they are not enough and a paralyzing fear that someday everyone will realize what a failure they truly are. If they lose the facade, they lose everything they believe gives them worth, success, the illusion of confidence, and lovability.
It’s also important to understand that depression and depressive thoughts are cyclical, and they often spiral out of control without proper treatment. Perfectionists tend to set very high standards for themselves, and their behavior becomes increasingly negative and self-critical as they continue to either a) not meet those standards, or b) raise their standards when they are met. This leads to increased stress, anxiety (perhaps even anxiety attacks), feelings of emptiness, and increased feelings of (or need for) isolation.
- Irritability or unusual mood swings
- “Brain fog” (lack of concentration, forgetfulness, etc.)
- Loss of interest in hobbies and/or social interaction
- Unexplained and/or uncontrollable crying
“Smiling depression,” like almost all forms of depression, is highly treatable. The problem is, those suffering from “smiling depression” are much less likely to seek help. If treated using proven therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), the cycle can be broken and spiraling prevented. Without treatment, long-term sufferers are in danger of health issues, sleep disorders, other mental illnesses, and suicidal ideations.
So what can I do?
First of all, if you think you may be suffering from “smiling depression,” PLEASE SEEK HELP. There’s absolutely NO shame in asking for help. In fact, admitting that you need help is the first and most courageous step you could take in taking charge of your mental health. You need to know that your family and friends love you dearly and only want what’s best for you. Moreover, Jesus loves you for the precious person that you are.
YOU ARE LOVED.
YOU ARE VALUED.
Studies show that those suffering from depression feel a decrease in their symptoms within six weeks of treatment. CBT specifically helps you change the way you form your thought patterns so that you learn to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Christian counselors will be able to help you take it one step further by replacing negative thought patterns with scriptural ones. See my post about journaling for more info on this process.
The first step to healing is acknowledging the pain. If you’re not comfortable sharing with family and friends yet, that’s fine. Talk to a licensed counselor or psychiatrist first. Seek help and find new, positive coping mechanisms. Here are some ideas for coping strategies to explore:
- Journaling: I cannot stress enough how therapeutic this can be. It might seem strange at first, but eventually you’ll come to realize that nowhere else will you ever feel as comfortable completely sharing your thoughts. You can journal as often as you need, but it will help to organize your thoughts if done regularly. This will also be handy for when you speak to a counselor or therapist as it will help you remember your thought patterns, how you felt, and how you dealt with them.
- Going for a walk: a short stroll around your neighborhood, a local park, or a scenic area can do wonders for the soul. It helps cycle fresh air into your body and clear your mind. It can also be a physical representation of breaking the negative cycle of thoughts – when you feel yourself start to spiral, get up and walk, jog, do yoga, whatever it takes. Get your body moving, get your blood flowing, and clear your mind.
- Music: create a playlist of songs that encourage and speak to your soul. Find worship songs that reiterate how God sees you and remind you of His love. It’s generally better to go with quieter, more melodic songs, but if rap or rock help you more, go with that. Just go with whatever works for you!
You CAN heal and genuinely smile again!
“Smiling depression” does NOT have to spell the end of any and all joy you might get out of life. With professional help, new coping strategies, and time (yes, it does help heal some wounds), you can learn to smile again from a deep source of genuine joy. Professional help is the first critical step in physically halting the depression cycle. I’ll reiterate one last time – please seek help. Develop new coping strategies and really use them. Share your struggle with family and friends when you’re ready.
At first it will all seem intimidating, awkward, etc. But as you look back, you’ll realize that you went from trudging through a bleary, black and white world to confidently striding through vibrant, joyful color (did you notice the photos in this post? 😉 ). Depression may continue to be a battle for you periodically throughout life. It does NOT, however, have to define you. Here are some resources I recommend to help you on your journey:
- God Centered Mom Podcast, Episode 154: Shame, Perfectionism, and Smiling Depression
- Uninvited: Living Loved When You Feel Less Than, Left Out, and Lonely, by Lysa Terkeurst
- Defiant Joy: What Happens When You’re Full of It, by Candace Payne (make sure to get or borrow the DVD as well!)
- Hope Prevails: Insights from a Doctor’s Personal Journey through Depression, by Dr. Michelle Bengston (she includes fabulous music playlists at the end of each chapter!)
- Be Held: Lullabies for the Beloved, by Christy Nockels
Remember that these are just suggestions. Please seek professional help and do not rely on these suggestions alone. If you need help finding resources near you, please click here. As always, please feel free to contact me personally with any questions. I would also love to hear from you in the comments below!
Know that I will be praying for you.
PS – any links to products in this post are NOT affiliate links per se; I do NOT receive any proceeds from them. I simply included them in an effort to help guide you towards helpful and encouraging resources. I hope that they bless you.