An approximated 7.1 percent of American adults struggle with symptoms of depression, a mental health condition that can be physically and emotionally crippling. Yet over a third of people affected by this disorder don’t get any treatment whatsoever, and often don’t even seek it out. Many learn, over the years, to hide their thoughts and behavior and put up a brave face instead of seeking help for their condition.
Partly, this is because depression is difficult to confront. Partly, it’s because many learn through stigma that admitting to mental illness is not fortuitous. Yet despite these reasons, one shouldn’t try to hide depression.
It’s Normal to Want to Hide It
No one wants to admit that they’re struggling with depression, because we’ve been incentivized to seem strong and unwavering in the face of adversity and exalt determination above all else. To admit to days spent struggling with a low mood feels like weakness.
Yet while living with depression requires tremendous strength and represents a continuous struggle, for someone actively depressed, it’s hard to see it as anything other than pathetic. Therefore, many try and avoid showing that they’re not doing well. Others feel that if they’re too open about their struggles, they risk alienating everyone around them.
Some of the greatest figures of strength and intimidation in history have struggled with depression, whether as a disorder or in the form of dark moods and periods of mild, yet unmistakable depression. Openly. As far back as the second century AD, when Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius spoke of being unable to rise from bed, criticizing himself for it. There is no reason to believe that depression makes one weak or incapable, no matter how much it feels that way.
It Isn’t Healthy to Hide
Hiding a depression only further fosters negative thinking. Like any wound, it festers when left untreated. This festering is exhibited to stronger and stronger forms of self-criticism and self-loathing, as well as potential suicidal ideation.
Some feel that talking about depression doesn’t help, but it does. One of the reasons talk therapy is such an effective method for many is that it allows people to be candid about their thoughts and feelings and realize how their disorder is affecting who they are, and what they think.
It gives people the opportunity to recognize the negative thoughts they hold and begin to form alternatives, grounded in reality, fueled by the shards of happiness we hold dear, from the love we have for our children or parents, to the pets we live with, the successes we have experienced, and so on.
It’s important to distinguish gratitude from the thought that, because life isn’t so bad, you shouldn’t feel this way. Being grateful for the positive aspects of your life isn’t meant to be an argument to invalidate depression, but an exercise to help you focus on something other than the bad.
It’s hard to say in any given case if a person’s negative thinking will ever truly pass or be addressed, but there are ways to refocus on something else entirely.
Seek Help Where You Can
One reason to try and hide one’s depression is because of the thought that there’s nothing to be done to try and treat it anyway. Some people feel that therapy is ineffective, or fear relying on medication to get through the day. Others might believe that depression cannot be addressed through any treatment or are treatment resistant themselves.
If anything, depression must be treated holistically. Any given treatment is more likely to work in combination with another treatment, and a person’s best chances are improving lie in trying to address every part of their daily lives.
Neurologically, there are many reasons the brain struggles with depression, from a diminished hippocampus due to excessive and repeated negative thinking, to ties to endocrinology and thyroid health, serotonergic systems in the brain, and the complex interactions between different regions of the brain in the limbic system.
Socially and environmentally, depression can be supplemented and made stronger through constant stress and financial anxiety, low self-esteem, body image issues, and unhealthy relationships.
Internally, genetics play a role in determining how the brain responds to certain thoughts, and both diet and lifestyle have an impact on the likelihood and severity of depression.
In some cases, trying to address one factor amidst at least a dozen is like trying to win a team game with a single team member. Cooperation is important, as is doing what you can when you can do it.
Not everyone has access to therapy, even when they want to seek out a good therapist to go to. In the absence of talk therapy, it’s critical to find alternatives.
Not everyone can make use of antidepressants or afford them in the long-term. While not ideal, alternatives like St. John’s wort and SAMe could help. Where antidepressant medication fails, treatments for treatment-resistant depression exist. Examples include transcranial magnetic stimulation, which was proven very effective for people who don’t respond to pills.
Dietary and lifestyle changes are hard to begin, and even harder to maintain. Small steps that can be consistently maintained are much more important and effective than large steps that lead to giving up. With each change, long-term adherence can lead to better physical health – and that, in turn, will lead to improvements in mental wellbeing.
Depression and Work
It’s alright to rely on your friends and family members for support. If possible, it can help to talk to your employer about your condition and how it might affect your performance at times. While it’s illegal to discriminate against someone due to mental illness, it’s hard to imagine that talking candidly about depression won’t affect how your employer will see you.
While these fears have some form of justification, they’re still largely unfounded. Keeping critical information from your employer can lead to increased stress, anxiety over unexpected problems and mood issues, and burnout. But ‘critical’ is key. You don’t have to disclose everything, and whether or not you talk about your condition relies heavily on context and the quality of your relationship with your employer.
Being honest about your condition could improve your relationship, because you can work with your employer to make the best of your good days and avoid struggles and failures on the bad days. How and when you choose to do so, however, is entirely up to you and your existing relationship with your employer.
There are no real benefits to hiding your depression or trying to pretend it isn’t there. As much as it is understandable to wish avoiding the scarlet letter, the burden of hiding a depression is far worse than seeking treatment and, finally, achieving relief.