Why Do Some Depressed People Appear Happy?
You don’t look depressed! How many times have you heard someone say that? How is depression supposed to look? Depression has many faces and many symptoms. Not everyone experiences depression or any mental health issue in the same way. Some people who have depression don’t even realize they are depressed.
Depression can show itself in weird ways. Some of the typical symptoms include sadness, irritability and loneliness. What you might not know is that depression can also present itself as fatigue, a loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, and insomnia. So if you can’t stomach the fact that you need to get out of bed and go to work, or if you isolate and sleep most of the day, or if you cry for no obvious reason…you might be considered classically depressed. Often times it’s a compilation of many different symptoms.
If you have these symptoms it does not necessarily mean you are depressed, but it could mean you that you might want to investigate your symptoms a little further. Many people are considered to be high-functioning, while still being diagnosed as depressed. So if you have a great job and you hang out with a close group of friends every week, or maybe you are at the top of your class in school and everyone is scrambling to date you, but you still don’t feel happy…you might be depressed, but high-functioning.
Often high-functioning depressed people can look like they have it all together and are winning at life, but in reality they are crumbling inside. These people put on a happy face for society; smiling, socializing, excelling in their profession, super organized and well put together, because they feel they have to “put on a happy face” so people can’t tell that they are suffering inside. Some of these traits are developed as coping mechanisms and allows them control something in their life.
This kind of depression is hard to identify and treat, but is crucial to do so. If left untreated, these people may not be able to self-identify as depressed and therefore never seek help. They might also be hiding other mental health issues, and develop severely unhealthy coping mechanisms that they hide from others, like excessive spending, drug abuse or sabotaging relationships. This can even lead to more severe mental health issues down the road.
High-functioning depression could be characterized as dysthymia. Dysthymia, is defined as a mental health disorder characterized by “Depressed mood for most of the day, for more days than not, as indicated by either subjective account or observation by others, for at least two years,” and includes the presence of two or more of the following symptoms, “Poor appetite or overeating; insomnia or hypersomnia; low energy or fatigue; low self-esteem; poor concentration or difficulty making decisions; feelings of hopelessness.” according to the “Diagnostic And Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5th Edition” (DSM 5). Only TWO symptoms will get you “classified” as having dysthymia.
These symptoms are just the tip of the iceberg with true reality of all depression symptoms. While the symptoms are very similar to Major Depression Disorder, they stand apart because people with dysthymia may not have the same critical levels of altered biological and mental capabilities that can make major depression easier identify. So these people appear “happy” or at very least content with their lives.
Here are some things that might point to high-functioning depression:
- Difficultly experiencing or feeling joy
- Highly critical of both self and others
- Lack of energy
- Anger issues or high agitation and irritability
- Chronic self-doubt
- A sense of being overwhelmed all the time
- Relying on coping mechanisms more and more despite not having a reason why (that you know of)
- Feeling guilty or worried over things beyond your control, especially past events and future endeavors
- Feeling unable to fully rest or “take it easy”
- Overall sadness
- Unexplained pain
- Physical symptoms like headaches or heaviness in your chest
- You are “letting yourself go”
- You feel indifferent
- You are listening to sad, angry or “dark” music
High-functioning depression is a biological and psychological disorder that mandates clinical treatment. However most of these people think that the more you push yourself and “will yourself out of it,” they can make themselves better, but in reality, instead of seeking proper support, the symptoms get worse and the cycle continues. The good news is that with help and support dysthymia can be managed.
Here are some things to start helping yourself today:
- Seek out a therapist or some kind of treatment today
- Talk to someone you trust
- Create a support group for yourself
- Don’t be afraid to explore ALL your options when it comes to treatment. It’s not always one size fits all.
- Consider alternative and complementary treatments like acupuncture and vitamin supplementation (Magnesium and Vitamin D have been shown to greatly improve symptoms of depression)
- Get some sun
- Get some exercise – if you are feeling angry, consider a boxing class or something more on the physical side to get out your frustration and anger in a healthier way
- Consider ingesting tumeric
- Listen to uplifting music
- Watch something funny
- Play a game
There are new controversial treatments and “out of the box” treatments available now as well, that warrant further research. If you don’t feel right even though everything seems to be going right, speak up! If you wake up feeling anxious and fearful to face the day, despite having everything you could ever want and need, speak up! Stop internally struggling and seek support. Stop playing the part. You can “have it all” and actually like you have it all and enjoy it too.