Revisiting Suicide… Depression and the Mask of Social Perfection

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Millions of persons in the world suffer from depression. But those who suffer from this illness put on a brave face and hide it from their partners, loved ones, families and society at large.
Most cases are undiagnosed and therefore, go untreated. Trapped in this saddening world, some unfortunately succumb to the misconstrued notion that the only way out is by committing suicide.
But depression is not something that you have to face on your own. This cannot be stressed enough and it is a message that we must really strive to promote. In this way, we can reassure persons that it’s OK to not always have your troubles figured out. It’s OK not to look perfect; OK not to know what to do next and OK to ask others for help.
But depression is not always easily recognizable. We tend to believe that hardship is worn openly upon one’s chest like a battle scar, but many of these wounds do not easily reveal themselves to those that do not take the time to look.
A person with concealed depression is one who is conditioned to deal with their ‘inner struggles’ in a way that doesn’t make them clearly visible. This may or may not be something they’ve shared with even their closest of companions.

How to speak up about Depression
When you’re feeling really down and out it can be difficult to know how to bring it up with family or friends. You may wonder, ‘How do I find the right words to use and where do I start?’

Well, you can start by knowing and remembering that depression is a growing problem all around the world, and that you are not alone. Nothing is wrong with ONLY you; this is a phase or period in your life that you can get out of.
Don’t label yourself as being weak and inadequate because Depression is not a disease of the weak like so many like to think, it can strike anyone and can happen for multiple reasons such as:-
Infidelity
Domestic Violence
Drugs & Alcohol abuse
Being bullied
Being sexually abused
Rejection
Your sexual orientation
Chronic illness or pain

Get started with the phrase “I think I need help!”
– Talk about your depressive feelings, especially with someone who you think is trustworthy and comfortable with their own emotions. It could be someone who has always been sympathetic towards you in the past.
You can say: “I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but I’ve been feeling sad, angry and useless all the time. I can’t sleep, I’m worried a lot and I think I need help.”
-Talk about how your mood is affecting you in your workplace. This can help put you in a much better frame of mind to work under less emotional stress.
You can say: “I’ve been having trouble concentrating and I know I haven’t been working to my full potential of late, but I want to, so I think I need help.”
– Refer to research and clinical definitions on depression. This is a good way to introduce the topic. Taking the time to do this provides a great platform for you to share your feelings while giving you a chance to prepare for the release of pent up emotions. It can also help the listener to better understand what you’re going through from a clinical perspective.
You can say: “I’ve been reading up on depression and anxiety lately and can see some of the symptoms in myself like low energy, trouble concentrating and being short tempered for no good reason. I think I might be one of those persons and I need help.”
-If you are someone who lives a physically demanding life, then telling someone that you’re not coping on a physical level will help them to understand your situation and recognize that you are asking for much needed help.
You can say: “I’ve been feeling really tired and quite strange a lot of the time. I’m worried that something is wrong with me and I think I need help.”
– It’s not uncommon for depression to affect your closest relationships, as it is our loved ones that often bear the brunt of a bad mood. Depression can leave you feeling withdrawn and lacking confidence, which is why relating to loved ones and other associates, can be a struggle.
You can say: “I’ve been fighting with my partner a lot lately, I’m not getting along with colleagues and I can’t stand the noise of my children of late. I think I need help.”

Recognizing depression and persons living with depression
Do remember that persons living with depression may not always display the common symptoms.
A prevalent side effect of depression is constant exhaustion. Not everyone with the disorder struggles with it, but it’s extremely common. For those who experience this symptom, it’s often one of the hardest side effects to deal with. This is also a symptom that’s difficult to conceal, as it often affects the person’s workload and personal relationships.
Depressed persons are found to be unusually irritable. It could be interpreted as sadness, even if that’s not what they’re really feeling. Irritability is a frequently overlooked symptom of depression that is also very common. This should be understandable, since depression is a health problem you can’t “see” or strictly measure, making it hard to combat. Having a short temper over a long period of time could be a possible warning sign of depression.
Depressed persons have a hard time responding to affection and concern from others. It is difficult for them to respond appropriately to gestures or words of affection and they may even get irritated or annoyed with you over it.
Turning down activities that were otherwise frequently enjoyed is a major red flag when studying someone who is depressed. Depression is physically and mentally draining and it makes enjoying all the things you usually do, difficult. Previously enjoyed activities lose their appeal and are unfulfilling to the individual.
Abnormal eating habits also develop in persons who are experiencing depression. When a depressed person is eating too little, it’s often because their depression is affecting their appetite and making eating unappealing. It can also be a subconscious need to control something, since they cannot control their depression.
Depression can have its ups and downs. If someone has hidden or undiagnosed depression, they might seem like they experience random mood swings, depending on if their depression is consistent or not. To you, the changes in mood seem without cause, but it’s simply how some people’s depression manifests itself.

‘Smiling’ Depression
The hallmark of ‘smiling depression’ is sadness. The smile and external façade is a defense mechanism and an attempt to hide true feelings. A person could be experiencing sadness about a failed relationship, career challenges, or lacking what they view as a true purpose in life. The sadness might also manifest as a constant, overall feeling that “something just isn’t right.”
Other common symptoms of smiling depression are feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue, irritability, hopelessness, and despair. Those suffering from this and other forms of depression may also experience problems sleeping, a lack of enjoyment in pleasurable activities, and a loss of libido. Everybody’s experience is different however. It’s possible to feel just one or many of these symptoms.
Another way to think about smiling depression is to see it as wearing a mask. People suffering from smiling depression may offer no hint of their problem to the outside world. They often maintain a full-time job, run a family household, participate in sports, and have a fairly active social life. With their mask on, everything looks great, even at times perfect. However, underneath the mask they are suffering from sadness, panic attacks, low self-esteem, insomnia, and, in some cases, suicidal thoughts.
Suicide can be a particular threat for individuals suffering with smiling depression. Typically, people suffering with classic, severe depression might have suicidal thoughts, but not the energy to act on their feelings. On the other hand, those suffering from smiling depression have the energetic ability to plan and follow through. This is why smiling depression can be more dangerous than a classic form of severe depression.

Dealing with the dangers of Social Media and Social Perfection
We live in a society where perfection is seemingly the benchmark for social interaction on various social media platforms.
“Perfection of means and confusion of goals seem, in my opinion, to characterize our age.” These words were said a very long time ago by someone with either amazing foresight, or it stands as evidence that the advent and subsequent explosion of social media has exacerbated the phenomenon of perfection.
Professor Rory O’Connor, President of the International Academy of Suicide Research, has been studying the psychological processes behind self-inflicted death for over 20 years.
He says that “if you’re a social perfectionist, you tend to identify closely with the roles and responsibilities you believe you have in life. It’s not about what you expect of yourself, it’s what you think other people expect of you. You’ve let others down because you’ve failed to be a good father or a good brother – whatever it is.” He went on to say that because it’s a judgement on other people’s imagined judgements of you, it can be especially toxic. “It’s nothing to do with what those people actually think of you, it’s what you think they expect. The reason it’s so problematic is that it’s outside your control.”
Therefore, if you’re a social perfectionist, you’ll have unusually high expectations of yourself. Your self-esteem will be dangerously dependent on maintaining a sometimes impossible level of success.
When you fail in this regard, the only thing left to do is collapse. When your self-esteem is low or shaky, you have to be careful around social media. On the various platforms: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., everything is wonderful for everyone, and their lives are often amazing.
If you are indeed depressed you will not want your actual feelings to be featured and sure enough you will almost never tweet or post about feeling depressed or like a failure.
So the next possible step is to fake cheerfulness. It is here that the mask of social perfection starts to manifest itself for the world to see. The danger is that the disparity between your real life sadness and social media cheerfulness makes the feeling of depression even worse. It may be best sometimes, when overcome with depression or anxiety, to just lay off social media altogether.
There are those persons who tweet and post constant declarations of eternal love on anniversaries and spouses’ birthdays, pictures of happy couples, giggling babies, joyous families, and exotic, expensive vacations.
There are the people checking-in here and hanging out there, tagging each other with inside jokes etc. only to turn around and commit suicide leaving everyone shocked.
In as much as this serves to warn persons about the dangers of having a public mask when leading a privately sad or unfulfilling life, it must be stressed that we all need to adopt the attitude of being less or non – judgemental, and more open to embracing persons who may not “measure up” so to speak to societal norms and expectations.
The concept of what is beautiful or what’s fashionable or where might be the “in” place to hang out or even the “right” people to hang out with, weigh heavily on the younger members of our society.
It is up to us to show them that these things are not important to their wellbeing, and that nurturing their young minds, bodies and souls with more positive things that foster a positive outlook will benefit them in the long run mentally.
If you made a wrong decision, don’t be afraid to say so as you try to better your situation. It is better to try than to hide and hurt forever.
Surround yourself with positive and loving people and healthy relationships, for regardless of your flaws, you deserve to have relationships that feel good and are nourishing to you.

Article Categories:
Columns · Health · Issue 21 · Psychological · Publication

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