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How to Recognize and Help Someone with Hidden Depression

Depression isn’t always obvious. In fact, some people go to great lengths to hide the symptoms of depression from the people around them — concealing the problem so well that they themselves may scarcely recognize it.

This is why hidden depression is sometimes called “smiling” depression. Someone with hidden depression may seem content, happy, and productive. Their work life and relationships, from all outward appearances, seem fine.

But inwardly, in quiet spaces that aren’t easily shared, depression symptoms are affecting their thoughts, feelings, and physical health. And those symptoms aren’t going away.

Becoming aware of how depression symptoms vary is important. Undiagnosed and untreated depression can get better if people get help. Learn more about how it’s diagnosed and treated.

Classic vs. atypical symptoms of depression

One reason it can be hard to recognize hidden depression is that symptoms vary so widely from person to person. You may already be familiar with the better-known symptoms of depression:

sadness that persists longer than 2 weeks

frequent crying

a big drop in self-esteem

losing interest in things that were once important

But other symptoms may be harder to recognize as depression, including symptoms like these:

physical pain or gastrointestinal problems not linked to another health condition

fatigue or lack of energy

changes in sleep patterns

weight gain, weight loss, or changes in appetite

changes in substance use

irritability, grumpiness, or extra-sensitivity

feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness

problems with attention, concentration, or memory

loss of interest in sex

One way to determine whether someone has depression is to look at how long someone has had symptoms. Generally, symptoms that don’t go away within 2 weeks should probably be discussed with a trusted healthcare professional.

What hidden depression can look like

It’s important to watch for any changes in behavior. When people have depression, they may begin to act differently than they used to act, even if they’re not acting sad or listless.

One or two changes on their own don’t necessarily signal that someone is hiding depression, but several that occur around the same time may be cause for concern.

When someone is experiencing symptoms of depression but not talking about it, attentive people around them might notice these kinds of changes:

Personality differences

Changes in personality may be a sign of hidden depression. Someone living with hidden depression might, for example, become quieter if they were once outgoing, or more pessimistic when they used to have confidence about the future.

Losing or gaining significant amounts of weight

Suddenly changing their eating habits — showing no interest in eating or eating in response to emotional situations may be a sign of hidden depression.

Changes in sleeping habits

Sleeping much later each day or for longer than usual, or staying awake at unusual hours, can all be signs of depression.

Becoming more serious

If someone is living with hidden depression, they may begin initiating or having conversations that are deeper, darker, or more philosophical than usual.

Differences in social interactions

Signs of depression may include someone becoming the “life of the party” in ways that don’t seem genuine. They might also start withdrawing from social activities, giving frequent excuses for why they aren’t engaging with friends and family as much can be signs of depression.

Productivity differences

Either devoting a lot of extra time to work or seeing a decline in performance can both indicate depression.

Abandoning hobbies or causes that once mattered

An individual with hidden depression may give up on things that were once very important to them, or they may start participating in half-hearted ways.

Negative self-talk

A person may say negative things in a joking manner to deflect attention away from their underlying pain. There may be an increase in risk-taking behaviors, especially in adolescents. This may be an attempt to counteract numbness or inflict self-harm.


The Shackz

Emotional Support Helpline

Let's Talk Depression

083 651 3729

065 741 3428

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