We all know what depression is, right?

If you feel helpless and hopeless, find it tough to get out of bed, feel apathetic about activities, you are depressed. That’s all there is to it, right? Some people believe it’s always as simple as that. But sometimes depression is more complicated than what’s on the surface.

But some depression goes unrecognized. Why? Because the symptoms are atypical. Depression can be concealed in several ways. How exactly can depression sometimes be masked?

Depression can be:

  • hidden. “I’m so busy with work and have no time for social activities.” Or, “I’m a social butterfly and hate it when I’m alone.’
  • faked. “I’m feeling fine. Just a bit stressed.”
  • displaced by anger. “There’s nothing wrong with me. Just get off my back and leave me alone.”
  • masked by addiction (drugs, alcohol, food, sex). “I just need a drink to help me relax. Yeah, well tonight one drink didn’t do the job. So, I needed a few. No big deal.”

When depression is masked, it’s difficult for others (as well as for the person himself) to recognize what’s going on beneath the surface.

Mike did not know it, but he was depressed. In his mind, however, his only problem was his wife’s constant nagging. “She doesn’t leave me alone. She’s always got some complaint; something’s wrong with me or I haven’t done something right. I’ve just about had it with her.”

“Certain things need to be addressed,” retorted Lydia.

“Yeah, yeah, you’ve always got some problem with me. Miss Perfect here knows all the answers.”

“I’m only trying to say that there are some things wrong here that we can’t ignore anymore. Mike has been working too hard, drinking too much, and blowing up at me and the kids for no good reason. He claims that nothing bad is going on at work, and that he’s not stressed over anything. I’ve been wondering if he’s been having an affair because he’s not interested in sex. But he denies it, and truly, I don’t think he has the vitality for an affair, even if he wanted one.”

I looked at Mike. His muscles were tight; he looked incensed.

“Care to respond to what Lydia just said?” I asked him.

“What do you want me to say?” he said.

I shrugged. “Whatever you want to say.”

Mike fell silent.

After a few minutes of silence, Lydia said, “See, there’s nowhere you can get with him. He’s either silent or evasive. Or, he blows up over some minutiae. This is no way to live.”

Two months later, Lydia decided to make good on her threats of divorce. She asked Mike to leave. When Mike realized that she was serious, he was distraught. With tears welling up, he pleaded with her to give him one more chance. “I’ll change,” he said. “I’ll do anything to keep our family together.”

“If you really mean that,” said Lydia, “I’m willing to hang in there. But you’ve got to recognize that you need to get help. You need to address what’s going on inside of you.”

“I know,” whispered Mike, “I know.”

It’s difficult to help someone who doesn’t admit that he’s hurting. It’s difficult to help someone who won’t speak about his state of mind. It’s a Herculean task to throw a lifeline to someone who blames you for all his problems. And yet, we must strive to understand masked depression. We must help those who are living with it appreciate what’s happening and what can be done to improve their lives.