themighty logo

15 Things Only People With 'Smiling Depression' Understand


The term “smiling depression” may sound confusing. After all, when many people think of depression, they often think of sadness — and not much else. This generalization can be harmful to people who experience depression but may not “look” depressed. For some, depression may look like sadness or exhaustion. For others, depression might look like a smiling face, or a person who “has it all together” — something we call “smiling depression.”

What is smiling depression?

In her post, “What You Need to Know About ‘Smiling Depression,'” Mighty contributor Laura Coward describes having smiling depression like this:

It’s appearing happy to others and smiling through the pain, keeping the inner
turmoil hidden. It’s a major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms, and as
a result, many don’t know they’re depressed or don’t seek help. Those who do would prefer to keep their struggle private.

People with smiling depression are often partnered or married, employed and are quite accomplished and educated. They’ve usually struggled with depression and/or debilitating anxiety for years and have had some experience with therapy or medication. Many who know they are depressed don’t disclose it due to fear of discrimination from loved ones or employers. Their public, professional and social lives are not suffering. Their façade is put together and accomplished. But behind the mask and behind closed doors, their minds are filled with thoughts of worthlessness, inadequacy and despair.

It’s important to remember every person’s experience of depression needs to be taken seriously, no matter what it looks like on the outside. We wanted to know things only people with “smiling depression” understand, so we asked members of our mental health community to weigh in.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “It’s easier to cheer people up but not myself. I can make them feel great when they’re going through the worst [times], but I cannot get myself happy, really happy. That happiness you see is just a way of not letting people [see] my problems.” — Sofia V.

2. “I am so tired. So, so tired, all of the time. It doesn’t matter if I’m sitting and pouting or smiling and engaging. [It doesn’t matter if I’m] dancing, running, swimming, eating, brushing my teeth, by myself or in a room full of people or sleeping. I. Am. Exhausted.” — Rinna M.

3. “Other people don’t get it. What it’s like to feel so trapped and in darkness, because I appear ‘happy’ and strong — even though [it feels like] I’m slowly dying.” — Nicole G.

4. “[I] fake it because [I believe] no one wants to hear about [my] depression. [I] fake it because [I am] tired of hearing all the ‘expert’ advice insinuating that [I’m] just [not] trying hard enough.” — Lisa C.

5. “[I] don’t always wear the mask for other people. Sometimes [I] wear it because [I] don’t want to believe [I] feel as miserable as [I do]. [For me], it isn’t always about making other people with [me feel] OK. Sometimes it’s wearing the mask so [I] don’t lose [my] job or so [I] can just get takeout without being asked what’s wrong.” — Melinda A.

6. “I can still laugh and give a big belly laugh about things, but on the inside, I feel empty. It’s a weird feeling being happy as much as you can, but your mind won’t follow suit. [I] just feel empty and the happiness isn’t genuine. It’s fake but [I] can’t change that no matter how hard [I] try for it to be a real feeling. Depression drains everything out of me. It takes an enormous amount of strength to appear ‘normal,’ it exhausts me… [My] smile doesn’t reach [my] eyes.” — Rebecca R.

Send support. Join the conversation:

person asking if having depression makes someone question if they can be in a relationship

7. “The problem lies in the fact that no one truly and honestly knows me. I feel like I’m alone every day — even when I’m surrounded by people.” — Jen W.

8. “[I] constantly doubt whether [my] struggles are real. When [I] finally get the courage and strength to open up about [my] depression, [I] always hear, ‘But you don’t act like you have depression.’ It took me years to come to terms and believe my own struggles.” — Adrianna R.

9. “Most days, I feel like I’m just barely surviving. Once I’m alone at the end of the day, all I have the energy for is crying. Crying because I’m just so exhausted with life and I’ll convince myself I can’t handle tomorrow and I need to call in sick. But when the next day actually comes, I’m too afraid to not show up. Eventually, after debating with myself for far longer than I should, I drag myself out of bed. The cycle [feels] never-ending. It’s like, if I choose one day to just stay in bed instead of getting up, it would be the most horrible thing in the world, so I eventually always get up, no matter how exhausted I am. It’s inevitable.” — Keira H.

10. “I try to keep up appearances to protect my family because my depression upsets them. I’m not very outwardly emotional, so everything gets to me more than I show it. I can’t open up to them, because I just get told, ‘Change your thoughts,’ ‘You seem fine, why do you want to go to a therapist?’ It makes those times when I can’t control my emotions even worse. I feel alone, tired and lost.” — Jessica C.

11. “Sometimes I really, like really want to show people how I’m really feeling, but I just physically cannot take the mask off. It’s like the walls just grow stronger the more I try to tear them down.” — Kira H.

12. “[I thought] if I faked being happy enough, then maybe I could get a glimpse of what it’s like to be ‘normal.’ I always feel like such a burden on the people [who] love me. [I feel] I have no choice but to pretend.” — Bree N.

13. “The time I’m most encouraging to myself is when I’m telling myself, I can make them laugh so they never suspect anything! I’m funny, right?” — Shelby S.

14. “The physical pain as well as the emotional pain. It hurts to walk, get up, move, force [myself] to smile, try to look ‘normal,’ happy.” — Keara M.

15. “[ I believe] we are the best actors in the world. Because if I have to explain depression one more time… it’s just easier to fake it until I get home.” — Lisa K.

How do you know if you have smiling depression, and what can you do for help?

While “smiling depression” is not a clinical term, you may recognize the experiences described above in yourself. You may be an outwardly happy and smiley person, someone who’s productive every day, holds down a job, appears to be the “strong” friend whom others would be surprised experiences depression. People with depression often also feel anxiety and hide that as well. Mighty editor Sarah Schuster described this exprience well in her post, “What It’s Like to Have ‘High-Functioning’ Anxiety.” When you are alone, or only with trusted people, you may then take off your “mask” and experienced anxious, depressed, or even suicidal thoughts.

No matter your experience, no matter how your depression presents itself, you should know: there is no shame in feeling this way, doing so does not make you less important, valid, accomplished, successful, whatever quality you hold dear. If you think you are feeling depressed, you are not alone. There are in-person and online options for therapy and couseling. Our Mighty community can help you feel less alone. If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources. You do not need to be feeling suicidal to use these resources. However, if you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

15 Things Only People With 'Smiling Depression' Understand