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Smiling depression: when you hide sadness

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The dictatorship of happiness that is imposed in the media and social networks influences the hiding of sadness 

The WHO estimates that around 280 million people worldwide suffer from depression. And the numbers may have increased with the pandemic: fatigue in postcovid patients is linked to anxiety, depression and apathy. Moreover, a study published in The Lancet states that cases of major depression have increased by 28% since COVID-19 appeared. However, experts believe that these numbers could be even higher given the number of undiagnosed cases of depression. Among them occupies an important place smiling depression, a type of depression that can go unnoticed even to the closest environment.

The term smiling depression refers to depressive disorders with the typical symptoms associated with such disorders, but in which the diagnosed subject shows an eagerness to hide. And this yearning results in an active position so that the people around him/her do not perceive the discomfort he/she is facing. The fact that sufferers make an effort to hide their discomfort translates into greater difficulty in detecting it. Therefore, diagnosed cases may be a very small portion of all existing cases.

However, sufferers experience the same discomfort as a person with typical depression. And, in fact, they are aware of what is happening to them. Or, at least, that something is wrong. But there are several reasons that may lead them to try to hide it. One of them is believing that their obligation is to be happy and that they can’t show negative emotions.

Today, we live in a society where being happy is an imperative. Along with this dictatorship of happiness, there has been a growing individualism that tends to undervalue the personal, social and structural circumstances of a system determined to convince us that health and illness are linked almost exclusively to personal psychological deficiencies; where self-determination and one’s own capacities are the backbone of our well-being. Thus, it is assumed that being well or not being well depends exclusively on oneself.

This message has become so pervasive in society that there are people who feel guilty for experiencing discomfort. In them, to the fact of suffering from depression would be added the guilt for suffering from it, assuming that we ourselves are responsible, and, in a double twist, we would go from depression to guilt, and from guilt to shame. Consequently, depression would represent for these patients their own inability to cope with something that we should know how to handle and is revealed as a signifier of their own weakness. The result this can have is precisely that of not showing one’s true emotions and appearing happy in the face of others.

In spite of trying to cover up the discomfort, it is possible that external signs appear that can alert the closest environment. Some studies say that people who experience atypical or smiling depression tend to have more appetite, oversleep and have a greater feeling of heaviness in arms and legs, as well as rejection of criticism from people around them. They may even show loss of interest in activities that were previously satisfying to them.

The influence of social networks

As for the type of people who may suffer from smiling depression, there is no established profile, since a complex reality of bio-psycho-social factors is involved. However, perfectionists, who often tolerate failures less well, may be among those who suffer from it if they perceive depression as a weakness and a personal shortcoming.

Social networks do not help real emotions to show. We live in a society where we constantly have to prove to others that we have a perfect life. In social networks there is a tendency to show the successful part of oneself, magnifying and exalting it considerably. At the same time, the comparison between one’s own life and the supposed life of others emerges as a deceptive game of mirrors, in which reality is blurred. Social networks may appear here as highways along which to travel under the concealment of discomfort. In this case, they could appear as the ideal traveling companion of smiling depression.

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