Hiding Depression with a Smile

January 29, 2024 Natasha Tracy

I often hide depression with a smile, even when I'm actually extremely depressed. This is a characteristic of "high-functioning" bipolar or depression. In other words, I'm carrying on with life and maybe even look okay, but really, I am drying inside. I've had practice looking mentally well when being really sick for years. I'm awfully good at it. But while this allows me to move through the world more successfully than some, there are also problems when you hide depression despite being very ill.

Hiding Depression Helps

The reason I hide my depression, of course, is because it makes living day-to-day easier. If you walk around looking like you want to die all day long, people start to ask questions you likely don't want to answer and eventually may even reject you for being "too depressing." Additionally, if you're in a workplace, appearing extremely depressed just doesn't fit in. It makes you look like a less effective employee (whether you are or not).

Hiding Depression Hurts

The problem with hiding your depression constantly is that people don't know you need help. This is a particularly pronounced problem when you're in a doctor's office. If you sit in front of your doctor and treat it like a Broadway performance, there is no way the doctor is going to know how sick you truly are and how much help you really need. Even if your words say, "I need help," if your actions say that you don't, it can be very difficult to get your doctor to see the truth.

I've had this problem for years. When I talk to a doctor, I'm prone to hiding my depression because I'm prone to hiding my depression everywhere. I can even be suicidal and still present like I'm okay. I honestly don't even know how I do this when I feel so sick, but I do. 

And I'm far from the only person to hide their depression very successfully. Many people have trouble getting help because of this exact fact. The doctor thinks they can't possibly be suicidal (even if they say they are) because they are smiling in their appointment. But suicidal people can smile. It's fake, of course, but it's possible. I'm pretty sure I could smile under any circumstance. Sometimes, I have to remind myself to stop when it isn't appropriate. It's just a reflex. It does not indicate that I am happy or even mentally well.

If You Tend to Hide Depression, Remember This

Hiding depression is a coping skill. It can even be an important coping skill for some people. However, you have to know when to drop the mask. Always hiding your depression will hurt you and possibly even put your life at risk. So remember, there are times and places where you need to stop hiding your depression. You need to stop hiding your depression when you're in a safe place and with loving people. It's in those places where you can actually find support and help with your depression, and that can actually help lessen your depression and make you need to hide it less. 

You also need to stop hiding your depression in front of your doctor or therapist. These are the people with whom you absolutely need to be forthright. You need to show them what's really going on so they can help you. You can't lessen the depression without help. And you can't get help without really showing your real depression to people.

I'm not going to tell you to stop hiding your depression in general — as I said, it can be important in some circumstances — but I am here to tell you (and remind myself) that it's important to match your affect with your words in front of people who can help you. After all, the end goal is to stop hiding your depression by not having anything to hide.

APA Reference
Tracy, N. (2024, January 29). Hiding Depression with a Smile, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 25 from

Author: Natasha Tracy

Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker, award-winning advocate, and author of Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar. She's also the host of the podcast Snap Out of It! The Mental Illness in the Workplace Podcast.

Natasha is also unveiling a new book, Bipolar Rules! Hacks to Live Successfully with Bipolar Disorder, mid-2024.

Find Natasha Tracy on her blog, Bipolar BurbleX, InstagramFacebook, and YouTube.

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