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  • Olga Rudin

Hidden Signs of Depression You May Be Missing

Updated: Mar 1

A woman is holding a mask over her face, illustrating hidden depression.
A depressed woman is hiding her mood behind a smiile

Have you noticed that small things could have a big impact? It's like a hidden force, silently affecting everything.

The same is true about hidden signs of depression. They may seem insignificant at first, easily dismissed, or explained away. But as time passes, they can become more pronounced, affecting your daily life and overall well-being.

Hidden depression has names like smiling depression, concealed depression, masked depression, or walking depression. No matter what the name is, this type of depression is dangerous because its symptoms are often invisible or overlooked.

People with hidden depression look happy and upbeat on the outside but are secretly struggling with inner misery.

The study published by Cureus in 2022 revealed that 39.4% of participants had a formal diagnosis of depression and 60.6% did not.

We will explore subtle signs of depression, their impact on well-being, and why it’s crucial to pay attention.

Key takeaways

  • Subtle signs of depression include changes in sleep patterns, disruptions in diet and weight fluctuations, alcohol use, and forcing a “happy face.”

  • Observing hidden symptoms of depression involves watching for loss of interest in activities, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, increased irritability or agitation, and fatigue or loss of energy.

  • To support someone dealing with masked depression, it's important to provide emotional support and create a safe environment where they can openly express themselves. Ask them how you can help and offer practical assistance with daily tasks. It's also helpful to provide them with resources for therapy or support groups.

  • It's also helpful to provide them with resources for therapy or support groups.

Depression Helpline NZ: 0800 111 757; Depression Support Groups:; Lifeline Aotearoa Incorporated: 0800 543 354; and online therapy services such as Better Health can provide support for individuals struggling with depression.

Hidden signs of depression

A woman sitting on a rock with a cup of coffee feeling lonely and depressed.
People with hidden depression feel lonely.

Depression manifests in various ways, including physical, emotional, and behavioural symptoms.

Physical symptoms of depression

Various physical signs can indicate hidden depression. Here are four common ones:

  1. Sleep disturbances: Depression causes sleep issues like trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, or sleeping more than usual.

  2. Appetite changes: You may notice fluctuations in your appetite, leading to unusual eating habits or sudden weight changes.

  3. Physical pains: Depression manifests as physical pains, such as headaches, backaches, or stomach aches, without any underlying medical cause.

  4. Health disorders: Depressive symptoms may also contribute to the development or worsening of other health disorders, such as cardiovascular problems or a weakened immune system.

Recognizing these physical signs can be the first step towards understanding and addressing this mental health condition. Getting help from healthcare professionals is essential for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Emotional signs of hidden depression

Emotional signs of depression are subtle. So, it’s vital to notice them and offer support to those who are dealing with depression. Some typical signs include:

  • persistent feelings of sadness.

  • emptiness, or hopelessness

  • increased irritability or restlessness

  • a loss of interest or pleasure in activities.

People experiencing hidden depression may also exhibit a loss of concentration, fatigue, or energy.

To help someone with smiling depression, be kind and attentive. Offer support and a safe space for them to share.

Behavioural depression signs

There are certain behavioural signs that one can observe in a person with masked depression. Don’t overlook them. They are

  • Social anxiety and withdrawal: Depressed individuals often isolate themselves from social activities and withdraw from their usual hobbies and interests.

  • Aggressive behaviour. Outbursts of anger over minor incidents

  • Impulsive decisions. Examples: quitting a job abruptly without another one lined up; high-risk sexual behaviours; making a big geographic move or travelling on a whim to "find themselves" or get away from their problems.

  • Loss of motivation: People hiding their depression may exhibit a lack of motivation and struggle to complete tasks or engage in activities they once enjoyed.

  • Risk-taking behaviours such as substance abuse, self-harm, and dangerous driving

Thoughts that people with concealed depression have

A sad woman is sitting in front of a window with a cup of coffee thinking.
Negative thoughts and self-doubt are signs of hidden depression

Constantly questioning your every move and doubting your abilities can be exhausting, especially when anxiety and depression go hand in hand. Here are some thoughts that depressed people may have:

  • Negative self-talk: "I'm worthless," "I'm a failure," "Nothing ever goes right for me," etc.

  • Hopelessness: "Things will never get better." "What's the point of trying?" "I'm too broken to be fixed."

  • Guilt and shame: "It's all my fault." "I'm a burden to everyone." "I don't deserve to be loved."

  • Low self-worth: "I'm not good enough." "I have nothing to offer." "I don't matter."

  • Lack of self-efficacy: "I can't do anything right," "I just mess everything up," "I'm not capable of getting better."

  • Feeling alone or isolated: "No one understands me." "I don't belong anywhere." "I have no one to turn to."

  • Feeling trapped: "I'm stuck in this terrible life." "There's no way out of this." "I'm powerless to change things."

  • Cynicism about the future: "What's the point of planning ahead?" "My future is bleak." "I expect the worst."

  • Suicidal ideation: "People would be better off without me." "I wish I could disappear." "No one would miss me if I was gone."

  • Minimizing problems: "This isn't that bad." "I should be able to handle this." "Others have it so much worse."

Having these negative thoughts and beliefs about themselves people try to hide their depression because of the stigma around mental health.

Why do people hide their depression?

People hide their symptoms for a few reasons:

  1. Fear of judgment and stigma: They often don't share their struggles because they fear being judged or seen as weak.

  2. Desire to appear ‘normal’ or high-functioning: Someone with depression maintains a high-functioning appearance despite experiencing depression. They may go about their daily lives with a smile, hiding their true feelings behind a mask of happiness.

  3. Fear of burdening others: Those with depression may believe that sharing their struggles will burden their loved ones. They may worry about overwhelming others with their emotional pain or feel guilty for needing help. As a result, they choose to suffer in silence, unaware that their loved ones would want to offer support if given the chance.

  4. Lack of awareness or denial: Some people may not even realize they’re struggling with depression or may deny their feelings due to shame or embarrassment. They may try to convince themselves that they’re just going through a rough patch or that their emotions aren’t valid. This lack of self-awareness can prevent them from seeking the help they need.

Understanding why someone hides depression helps us talk about it with care. We should make people feel safe enough to say how they feel without judging them. This way, we can get rid of the stigma around depression.

Now we know why people hide depression. Let's explore how they do it.

How do people mask their depression?

A young woman in a yellow shirt is smiling hiding depression
A smile can be a sign of masking depression.

People with depression mask it in many ways. Here are some common ways people with depression behave or pretend:

Masking Emotions: They may put on a facade, appearing cheerful or neutral even when experiencing intense emotions.

Overcompensating: Some individuals may engage in excessive productivity or achievement as a way to divert attention from their emotional pain.

Humour as a defence mechanism: Depressed individuals conceal their true emotions with humour, using jokes as a defence mechanism to deflect from their internal struggles.

Downplaying problems: They may downplay their difficulties, presenting a picture of everything being fine when it's not.

Avoiding discussing feelings: They might actively avoid conversations about their emotions, deflecting or changing the subject when it gets too personal.

Appearing strong: while projecting strength and resilience while internally struggling, they may fear vulnerability and choose to portray a tough exterior.

Sometimes it’s very difficult completely to hide depression so they express subtle signs.

What can we spot behind a mask?

Even if depressed people are good at hiding their depression, there are subtle signs you can notice. These are subtle cues to pay attention to that can indicate depression.

Shifts in behaviour that aren't typical for someone can be a clue that they are struggling with depression inside.

For example, a colleague who used to be engaged and enthusiastic about their work now seems disinterested or unmotivated. They may miss work or take more breaks, withdraw from socializing or show a decline in their performance.

Emotional cues like getting frustrated easily and bursts of anger may mean they struggle inside. A depressed person may seem down, tired, or less excited about things.

The general shift in their overall mood or outlook. If someone cheerful suddenly seems down all the time, it's worth paying attention. Small comments like "nothing matters anymore" or "I don't care about that stuff" reveal a change in mindset. It could mean they are struggling inside.

Checking in and asking, "I've noticed you don't seem as happy lately; is everything okay?" opens the door for them to share. Listen to them without judgment. Small acts of kindness, such as inviting someone to lunch or sending encouraging notes, can make a big difference for those secretly dealing with depression.

Recognizing these subtle signs can help keep someone from the dangers of hidden depression.

Dangers of smiling depression

A small part of an iceberg is floating with a boat on it, The biggest part of it is under water symbolizing  dangers of hidden depression.
It is vital to recognize the dangers of hidden depression.

Depression can be harmful for someone dealing with it alone. It can hurt their relationships and overall health. That's why it's important to know and spot the signs of depression. This way, it doesn't get worse.

Catching hidden depression early prevents bigger problems down the road. People need support before their private pain becomes too much to bear.

Here are five dangers associated with this kind of depression:

  1. Depression goes undiagnosed. People can suffer alone for years without proper treatment or support.

  2. Untreated depression worsens over time. If depression goes untreated, it gets worse. The symptoms become more severe over time. Feeling very sad, having body aches, having sleeping problems, and losing interest in fun things can all intensify. Daily life becomes much harder.

  3. Increased risk of suicide: One of the most alarming dangers is the increased risk of suicide. Someone suffering from depression may feel isolated, hopeless, and trapped in their emotions, making them more prone to suicidal thoughts and behaviours.

  4. Strained relationships. The individual may withdraw from social activities, become irritable or angry, and have difficulty expressing their emotions. This can lead to misunderstandings, conflicts, and strain on personal and professional relationships.

  5. Negative impact on overall health: Depression affects not only mental health but also physical well-being. Untreated depression leads to the development of illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, osteoporosis, and Alzheimer’s disease. It can also worsen existing chronic conditions, making overall health worse.

It is vital to take practical steps to avoid these dangers.

Practical steps to help someone with hidden depression

A psychologist and a happy client are sitting in a chair and discussing the positive outcomes of the treatment for hidden depression.
Professional help is essential in treating smiling depression.

When dealing with depression, it's important to take practical steps to manage the condition.

  • Recognize the signs and symptoms of hidden depression.

  • Seek help and find treatment options that work for you. Find a therapist or counsellor who specialises in treating depression. They can provide guidance and therapy techniques to help you with depression.

In addition to professional help, there are practical steps you can take to manage depression.

  1. Engage in self-care activities such as exercise.

  2. Maintain a healthy diet.

  3. Practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, hypnosis or meditation.

  4. Build a strong support network of friends and family who can also provide valuable emotional support.

  5. Educate yourself about depression and its treatment options. It can empower you to make informed decisions about your mental health.

  6. Find support groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can the symptoms of hidden depression be different from the obvious depression symptoms?

People often overlook subtle signs that differ from obvious symptoms. These signs can include changes in sleep patterns, a loss of interest in activities, persistent sadness, increased irritability, and low energy.

What are some common misconceptions about hidden depression?

Common misconceptions include believing that individuals are just going through a rough patch, that they can simply “snap out of it,” or that they are not experiencing real suffering.

Can hidden depression be just as serious as more visible forms of depression?

Yes, it can be just as serious as major depression or clinical depression. It may not be obvious to others, but the emotional pain and impact on your mental health are real.

How can someone support a loved one with hidden depression?

You can support them by offering emotional support, creating a safe space for them to talk, asking how you can help, providing practical assistance, and suggesting therapy or support groups as resources.

Are there any red flags that indicate someone may be struggling with walking depression?

If you notice changes in sleep patterns, loss of interest in activities, persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness, increased irritability or agitation, and fatigue, these could be red flags indicating depression.


In conclusion, it’s important to recognize the subtle symptoms of depression and offer support to those who may be struggling. Changes in sleep patterns, fluctuating weight, forced happiness, and loss of interest in activities are all subtle symptoms that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Understanding why people hide depression and the potential dangers of doing so can help create a more empathetic and supportive environment. Remember, seeking professional help is crucial, and there are practical steps that can be taken to address depression.


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