How to Recognize Smiling Depression in Teens

How to Recognize Smiling Depression in Teens

Smiling depression refers to a coping mechanism used by people with a mental illness where they mask their symptoms of depression by appearing to be "happy" to the outside world.

Someone experiencing a major depressive disorder may not want family members, friends, or teachers to know what is happening and become adept at hiding their mental health problems.

In psychology, "masking" is when someone hides their genuine personality or emotional state to conform to societal norms or not want to expose themselves to negative interactions.

Smiling depression is a way of coping with the myriad of issues living with depression can bring - whether it's conscious or subconscious. This performative behavior can help a person navigate society, and it's easy to miss the subtle signs of depression because of this.

According to Mental Health America (MHA), 15% of 12-17-year-olds experienced a major depressive disorder in 2022, while 10.6% live with a severe, persistent depressive disorder.

What Is Major Depressive Disorder?

Depression is more than just a few days of unhappiness or frustration - most people experience times when they feel down. However, when people have major depression, they experience persistent sadness for weeks or months rather than a few days.

Major depressive disorder is a serious mental illness affecting how people feel, think, and do their everyday tasks.

It is not a sign of weakness or something a person can "just get over." It is an illness with defined symptoms, including feelings of hopelessness, unhappiness, and losing interest in activities they used to enjoy. Anxiety and other mental disorders can also be present as part of depression symptoms.

There may also be physical symptoms, such as being constantly tired, having trouble sleeping, and aches and pains.

Clinical depression can present with mild to severe symptoms - mild depression is consistently feeling down. However, severe depression can feel like life is not worth living and involve thoughts of suicide.

People with smiling depression can hide these symptoms and their true feelings or pass them off as something else, making it difficult for family and friends to notice.

Depressive Symptoms

Depressive symptoms can be complex and individual-specific; untreated depression can lead to serious mental health conditions. They can make people feel hopeless, sad, and uninterested in the things they used to enjoy. The symptoms are severe enough to affect school, work, social life, and family life for weeks, months even years.

Depressive symptoms can include:

  • Continuous low mood or sadness
  • Feeling hopeless and helpless
  • Having low self-esteem
  • Lack of energy
  • Disturbed sleep 
  • Changes in appetite and weight loss or gain
  • Avoiding contact with friends and taking part in fewer social activities
  • Neglecting hobbies and interests
  • Having difficulties in their home, school, work, or family life

Types of Depression

It can be challenging to recognize the subtle signs of depression because depression frequently develops over time. Many people try to deal with their symptoms without even realizing it, and smiling depression is one such coping mechanism.

Depression comes in many forms, which can include:

  • Mild depression – has some impact on daily life.
  • Moderate depression – has a significant impact on daily life.
  • Severe depression – makes it hard to get through daily life. Some people with severe depression may also have psychotic symptoms.
  • Postnatal depression - sometimes, new mothers, fathers, or partners develop depression after they have a baby.
  • Bipolar disorder - also known as "manic depression" in bipolar disorder, where there are spells of both a depressive episode and excessively high mood.
  • Seasonal affective disorder or "SAD" - known as "winter depression," SAD is a type of depression with a seasonal pattern usually related to winter.
  • Persistent Depressive Disorder or PDD - this is a high-functioning depression that is also connected to smiling depression. PDD sufferers exhibit fewer severe but similar symptoms to those of depression. This form of depression lets the person go to school or work, perform well, keep a steady job, keep up with their responsibilities at home, and participate in social activities.

Causes of Smiling Depression

Smiling depression isn't officially diagnosed by a mental health professional; however, it is an actual condition. The term can be used when people look and act happy but are actually depressed or anxious.

If someone lives with smiling depression, they might reassure others they are fine and continue their daily activities. As a result, loved ones might not be aware they may require assistance with mental health issues. They are hiding their true self 'behind a smile'.

Smiling depression resembles what is called high-functioning depression. If they are perfectionists or ambitious, they may be more likely to suffer from smiling depression as they place a high value on maintaining appearances.

They might also be ashamed of how down they are, and in turn, the stigma may prevent them from speaking up or seeking medical assistance.

Symptoms of Smiling Depression

Smiling depression is distinct from other types of depression in that it frequently goes unnoticed. Neither the teen nor others may be aware they are depressed. It is for this reason that smiling depression can sometimes be more dangerous than "classic" depression.

Suicide is a very dangerous possibility. Without the typical symptoms of depression, such as withdrawal, low energy, or a lack of pleasure, people may not be aware they require assistance. Smiling depression sufferers effectively conceal all those emotions, making suicidal thoughts difficult to detect and, therefore, suicide prevention difficult for those around them.

What Treatment is Available for Smiling Depression?

Smiling depression can be treated effectively by a medical professional - a psychiatrist or other mental health professional for teens.

However, even when seeing a therapist, many people with smiling depression continue to present a false front. If they do so, then they won't be able to get the help they need - it's critical to be open and honest about their feelings.

When they do so - they will get assistance from their physician or therapist in determining their treatment options with medication, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

Clearfork Academy

Clearfork Academy offers teen inpatient and outpatient plans for 13-18-year-olds, including individual therapy, group therapy with other teens, and family therapy with parents and guardians.

Clearfork is situated in North Texas by the idyllic Eagle Mountain Lake and combines different therapies, including talk therapy, for teens to change their path.

When teenagers are experiencing smiling depression, stress, or anxiety disorders, they may struggle to think clearly and can't see a "clear fork" in the road or see a way to change course.

What to Expect from Clearfork

Male and female teens aged 13-18 experiencing smiling depression can come to Clearfork for various treatments, therapies, and counseling sessions to help manage depression. A typical stay lasts for 13 weeks, but each person will be treated depending on their specific needs, which will see some stay for longer while others may require a shorter stay.

They can continue their education with fully trained staff providing lessons in the on-site learning center.

Clearfork accepts teens no matter who they are - any teenager who enters a program will be welcomed and cared for. We are here to help everyone every step of the way.

Contact Us

If you are experiencing depression and want to make sense of it all and think talking to trained professionals would be helpful, then get in touch with Clearfork.

If you're concerned about the well-being and the future of a loved one and believe they would benefit from treatment and emotional support, then Clearfork is here to answer any questions - contact us today.

Find the solution with Clearfork Academy

Call for a Free Consultation
Call (817) 259-2597

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