Masked Depression: Depression in Achievement and Appearance Focused Communities

By Dr. Brad Schwall  

In churches, schools, and offices, it often seems as though everyone is doing just fine. Those in communities with jobs, resources, and financial security have safety nets that can help keep them functioning. They’ve developed skills for functioning at a high level that can make it easier to hide pain. They mask depression by appearing happy, motivated, busy, and important. But, those who seem to have it all together on the outside, can experience deep pain inside.

In our achievements-based, busy culture, it is seen as a weakness to struggle emotionally. Those who are already able to function at high levels may have the ability to mask their depression. They are able to turn it on for work, socializing, church, or PTA. But, within, they are hurting, on the verge of tears, without purpose or meaning. They may use alcohol in social situations to help them mask their pain and appear gregarious and happy. They may be self-medicating with alcohol. Just as they are masking depression, they may also be hiding serious alcohol abuse and addiction.

Depression may not be completely debilitating, yet still make enough of an impact to cause a sense of emptiness and loneliness that interferes with well-being. Depression doesn't have to completely debilitate us to be depression. If the symptoms of depression last for an extended amount of time and impact our thoughts and actions in any way, then we may have depression.

Depression is the result of biological, psychological, and environmental influences. We must be aware of the illness of depression just as we are aware of heart disease or cancer. Prevention and early intervention make a difference with fighting depression just as prevention and early intervention can help with heart disease. Our brains can be pre-disposed to develop depression. Ongoing and intense stress and a chaotic or toxic living environment are psychological factors that can initiate the onset of depression and also have a physical impact on our health.

Addressing depression involves attending to all areas of our lives:

  • Exercise makes a positive impact on our mood
  • Connecting with others creates a support network
  • Counseling may offer the opportunity to learn, gain awareness, and build skills
  • Medication may help with biochemical imbalances in the brain
  • Prayer and meditation re-direct our focus and encourage mindfulness

If you have a friend or family member dealing with depression:

  • Understand they have to want to get help – you cannot force them
  • Share your concerns as observations of the behaviors you see
  • Get help for yourself

God created us as physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual beings. Our brain is a physical organ and is susceptible to illness just as our heart is. God gives us the ability to connect with God and be transformed in Christ. This transformation can lead us to new perspectives and new ways of relating. Relying on God frees us of the need to be perfect, the need to perform, and a perspective focused on external and temporary gratification.

Being genuine is one key to being confident in ourselves and able to develop meaningful, satisfying relationships. When we allow ourselves to open up honestly with someone we trust, we can unlock our potential for healing and growth. It might be difficult to take away the mask. Once we are honest, being joyful and living a fulfilling life become possible.

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