What Is Walking Depression?

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated May 14, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that include suicide, substance use, or abuse which could be triggering to the reader.
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When many of us think of depression, we may think of a mental health disorder that causes major disruptions to a person’s life. Depression can be commonly associated with symptoms like extreme fatigue, an inability to get out of bed, difficulty completing or attending work, and trouble maintaining personal health and hygiene. While symptoms like this may be present, many people living with depression find they are able to maintain their day-to-day lives. It may be said that these people are experiencing “walking depression.” If you believe you may be living with walking depression or any other mental health concern, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a licensed mental health professional.

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Could you be living with walking depression?

What is walking depression?

According to the Project Helping organization, “walking depression” can be a nickname for the experience of feeling depressed but continuing to go on walking, talking, and even smiling.

Similar to walking pneumonia, walking depression typically exhibits symptoms that may appear to be minor, but tend to persist or worsen over time without treatment. Someone experiencing walking depression may tell themselves repeatedly that “tomorrow will be better,” or “next week will be better,” and then see no improvement.

People with walking depression often appear to have no trouble maintaining a job, relationship, or career. They may keep up with an active lifestyle or fulfilling hobbies. For example, where typical depression may interfere with a person’s ability to keep up with a volunteering commitment, someone with walking depression will likely continue to show up while feeling profoundly unhappy on the inside. 

Because of this, walking depression is sometimes considered more dangerous than typical depression due to the exhaustive nature of masking symptoms daily. Additionally, prolonged sadness or depression can lead to even greater physical and mental health risks. 

Symptoms of walking depression may include: 

  • Avoidance of social interaction, including phone calls, gatherings, or celebrations
  • Increased irritability
  • Excessive fatigue or constant tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substances, overeating, or intentionally isolating
  • Anxiety about the past and future
  • Loss of interest in activities or hobbies that were previously enjoyed, such as art or fitness
  • Insomnia

Walking depression vs. major depressive disorder

Getty/AnnaStills

When it comes to clinical diagnosis, “walking depression” generally serves as a nickname for what would typically be referred to as major depressive disorder with atypical symptoms. While the most noticeable difference between what is considered walking depression and typical depression may be the ability to keep up with daily life, prolonged walking depression will likely interfere with this ability down the line. 

Additionally, as walking depression can be a form of major depressive disorder, many of the symptoms tend to overlap. Symptoms of major depressive disorder may include the following:

  • Feelings of sadness, hopelessness, tearfulness, or emptiness
  • Angry outbursts, irritability, or frustration, even over seemingly small matters
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in normal activities
  • Sleep disturbances, such as insomnia or sleeping too much
  • Tiredness and lack of energy, so that even small tasks may take extra effort
  • Changes in appetite and weight
  • Anxiety, agitation, or restlessness
  • Slowed thinking, speech, or movement
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt, self-blame, fixating on past failures 
  • Trouble thinking, making decisions, concentrating, and remembering things
  • Frequent or recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts, or suicide*
  • Unexplained physical issues, such as back pain or headaches

*If you or a loved one are currently experiencing suicidal thoughts, reach out for help immediately. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline can be reached at 988 and is available 24/7.

Coping with walking depression

Due to the quiet and internalized nature of walking depression, there’s usually a certain level of self-assessing that must be done to identify the existence of symptoms. In many cases, people with walking depression tend to feel guilt or shame surrounding their symptoms, likely due to the stigmas that continue to surround mental health issues. 

If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of walking depression, it can be important to remember that what you are feeling is valid. There is generally no requirement for how “bad” depression symptoms must be in order to seek help. Even if you are currently able to maintain your day-to-day life, it can be extremely important to open up about what you are experiencing before symptoms worsen. 

Often, opening up about your challenges to a trusted friend or family member can be a good place to start. Additionally, there are online resources such as Mental Health America and nonprofit organizations such as DA where you can connect with people experiencing similar feelings. 

While friends, family, and community can be important and valuable forms of support, if you are experiencing symptoms of depression, it is usually best to consult a therapist or mental health professional as soon as you are able. 

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Could you be living with walking depression?

Benefits of online therapy

If you are living with persistent symptoms and side effects of depression, it may be helpful to speak with an online therapist. Due to the quiet nature of walking depression, the act of seeking help may seem extremely challenging. Thankfully, the recent expansion of online therapy may offer a more comfortable option by allowing patients to receive treatment virtually at a time that fits into their existing schedule.

According to research, online cognitive behavioral therapy or “talk therapy” can be equally as effective as in-person therapy at reducing the symptoms of certain mental illnesses, including depression.

Takeaway

The nature of walking depression can make symptoms difficult to identify due to one’s ability to maintain responsibilities while experiencing deep and persistent sadness. If you believe you may be experiencing walking depression, it can be important to be honest with yourself and your loved ones about what you are going through. It can be especially helpful to reach out for professional guidance through in-person or online therapy.
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