Why The Happiest Person In Your Life Could Actually Be The Most Depressed

A form of depression where sufferers mask their symptoms by appearing outwardly happy is very common and can lead to loss of life according to experts.

Trigger warning: the following story discusses suicide and may be triggering for some individuals.

While 'smiling depression' isn't a technical term that psychologists use, it is certainly possible for a person to be depressed and still function in their day-to-day life.

They do this by disguising their symptoms from others by putting on a happy facade -- hence the name, smiling depression.

Olivia Remes, PhD candidate at the University of Cambridge in the UK, explained in The Conversation that the closest technical term for this is something called 'atypical depression'.

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In her opinion, a significant proportion of people who experience a low mood and a loss of pleasure in activities -- the hallmarks of depression -- manage to hide their condition by putting on a brave, happy face.

It's something that Dr Grant Blashki, lead clinical advisor at Beyond Blue, told 10 daily that he sees a lot of at his practice.

"On the outside people seem like they're smiling and that everything's okay but internally they are ruminating about sad things, losses, guilt and worry," he said.

The way smiling depression typically manifests, in his experience, is that sufferers usually have a short fuse -- they get teary, stressed or angry very easily. They're also often exhausted because they're constantly ruminating or mulling over negative thoughts.

People with smiling depression may be particularly vulnerable to suicide, according to Remes.

They may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad -- they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.

Inside, however, is a whole different story.

"They feel hopeless and down, sometimes even having thoughts about ending it all. The strength that they have to go on with their daily lives can make them especially vulnerable to carrying out suicide plans," she said.

This, Remes explained, is in contrast to other forms of depression, in which people "might have suicide ideation but not enough energy to act on their intentions."

The sadness behind the smile

The causes behind smiling depression -- which often starts early in life and can last a long time -- are difficult to determine. Low mood can stem from a number of things such as work problems, relationship breakdown and feeling as if your life doesn’t have purpose and meaning.

Dr Blashki told 10 daily that cases of smiling depression represent the minority of cases of depression -- it's more common to see people with visible depression symptoms like low mood, social withdrawal and bouts of crying.

This makes it very hard to spot smiling depression in others -- and in ourselves.

Visible depression symptoms include low mood, social withdrawal and bouts of crying. Image: Getty.

Symptoms of smiling depression that are often noticeable include exhaustion, overeating, feeling a sense of heaviness in the arms and legs and being easily hurt by criticism or rejection.

People who are prone to anticipate failure, have a hard time getting over embarrassing or humiliating situations and tend to ruminate or excessively think about negative situations are more susceptible to the condition according to Remes.

Overcoming the darkness

It's important to seek help if you're suffering from smiling depression -- sadly, Remes wrote, many people don’t, because they don't know they have a problem in the first place.

"They may also feel guilty and rationalise that they don’t have anything to be sad about. So they don’t tell anybody about their problems and end up feeling ashamed of their feelings," she said.

Dr Blashki's first tip to overcome smiling depression is to simply be kind to yourself.

"Often people feel they should be fine, that they shouldn't be having these feelings so they just bottle it up," he said.

Find a safe situation with a doctor or psychologist you trust and be honest about how you're feeling. If that's too much a preliminary step might be to write down how you feel in a journal or talk with a friend -- Beyond Blue also has an anonymous online forum where people can express themselves in a safe way.

There are, of course, other ways to treat depression -- lifestyle changes, exercise, diet, mindfulness and medication -- that can still apply, he explained.

Many sufferers of smiling depression don't seek help because they don't know they have a problem in the first place. Image: Getty.

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Finding meaning in life is, in Remes' opinion, of utmost importance.

"We can find purpose by taking the attention away from ourselves and placing it onto something else. So find a worthwhile goal and try to make regular progress on it, even if it’s for a small amount each day because this can really have a positive impact," she wrote.

You can also find purpose by caring for someone else -- try volunteering or taking care of a family member or even a pet.

If you're supporting someone who has smiling depression know that getting a text message from someone they’ve been craving to hear from or being praised at work can make them feel better.

"Feeling that our lives matter is ultimately what gives us purpose and meaning -- and this can make a significant difference for our mental health and well-being," Remes explained.

If you need help in a crisis, call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 or Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

Feature image: Neon